Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Speaking French in France

A few years ago, when I decided that I should regain the ability to speak the French that I had learned in high school and college, people often asked me if I was doing this because I was going to France.  Every time, I would say, "Maybe I'll go to France someday, but re-learning French is not about that.  It's about getting back a skill I used to have, and it's about being a more well-rounded American."

(St. Emilion in the Dordogne wine region of France)

When Bill and I toured the Netherlands in 2004, I had been impressed that most Dutch people speak four or five different languages with ease. Since one of the languages is English, we had no trouble communicating, but, I thought, wouldn't it be great to be fluent in more than just a native tongue?

Those of you who read my two 2011 blog posts about re-learning French may remember that I took French I and II at the College of St. Rose.  After that, I spent two years attending a one-evening-a-month conversation group.  I missed some months, but every time I went, I came home and said to Bill, "This is so much fun!"

(Houses pile one on top of another on Mont St. Michel)

A group of six or more, we sat around a table and visited.  Any topic was fair game.  The participants ranged from people struggling with French to native speakers.  I fell somewhere in the middle.  At first I contributed to the conversation tentatively.  Then one December evening I was the only person who showed up besides the moderator.  Forced to communicate, I gained confidence, and, from then on, I spoke often at every meeting.

In March, Bill and I made our trip arrangements for a tour of France, planning to go for the last week of May and the first week of June.  Evening schedule conflicts forced me to miss my French conversation group in April and again in May.  Here I was, with a trip to France on the doorstep and rusty speaking skills!  Then, Terry, a friend who works with me in the cheese department at the Co-op, said, "I'm trying a different French group.  They meet at people's houses and chat.  They usually meet in Schenectady, but the one this week is in Albany."

(The Van Gogh cafe in Arles looks just like Van Gogh's painting of it)

I needed to go.  I drove to the home of MaryAnn, a woman who had been born and raised in France.  A few people were already there when I arrived.  Others streamed in, carrying wine, baguettes, cheese, and fruit.  I looked at Terry, and said, "I didn't know we should bring anything."  He said, "Don't worry about it.  I brought cheese.  It will be from both of us."

(Walking on the castle wall allowed me to take this picture at Carcassonne)

All around me, I could hear French conversations, as people went to the kitchen for a glass of wine and to the diningroom table for snacks.  I joined in one conversation after another.  When I got tired of the topic in one group, I moved elsewhere.  The people were welcoming and friendly.  They wondered how I had learned about the group, made sure I got on the email list for the next meeting, asked me if I had ever been to France, and were excited that I would be going soon.

(Chateau Chenenceau in the Loire Valley)

I couldn't eat or drink--speaking French on all different topics was enough for me to keep track of.  I took a couple of cubes of fruit to hold on a plate, just to make a good appearance, and felt transported into a French cocktail party, mingling, chatting, making new acquaintances.  After an hour and a half, I was exhausted.  I thanked MaryAnn and went to the door to leave.  In lovely French, she called out to me, "It has been my pleasure to have made your acquaintance."  How nice, I thought, and memorized the phrase.  I felt ready to take on France.

When we arrived at our hotel in Paris with a few hours on our own, I knew that I could ask in English where the nearby park, Bois de Boulogne, was, but I thought, hey, I might as well try my French now as later.  I asked the receptionist for directions and she brought out a map to show me.  My words sounded halting, but I got the answer I needed.  The next day, I spoke to a vintner where we had a tour of a wine cellar, asking him if it were okay to take pictures. Although my grammar was still awkward, he answered me nicely in French.

(A Medieval street in  Beaune)

From then on, I was off and running, and I had a blast!  I asked directions to a beach near the Riviera, spoke to vendors about their wares at a Farmer's Market, talked about the weather in a shop in Provence, ordered food in sidewalk take-away shops, read signs and translated them for Bill. Every day, I made opportunities to speak French.

(Virginia wading in the Mediterranean)

Once in a while I got bogged down, such as when I wanted to buy a tablecloth and had difficulty converting centimeters to inches.  I finally spoke to the vendor in English, but I bought placemats instead.  Twice people told me that I spoke very well.  I wondered about that.  Maybe I didn't speak all that well, but I knew they said this to encourage me and to let me know that they appreciated my efforts.

(Every city has a carousel on the square, Avignon)

One evening we went to a very old farm for dinner.  Everything had been made or grown on the property--the wine, red and rose, the chicken and vegetables. Our hosts even caught the fish in their stream.  Homemade bread and butter, and a salad with their own goat cheese began the dinner and a rhubarb crisp ended it.  Besides the wonderful fresh food, the farm had a continuously working mill from the year 1036.
At dinner, when the hostess came around, I told her that the food was delicious--my lead-in to my next French chat.  I asked her if the house, like the mill, was very old.  She took right off!  In a volley of words, she told me that the church was that age, and the surrounding farms, so, judging from that and the age of the huge stone fireplace, yes, the house was probably also from about 1036.  Whew! With intensity, I tried to grab every word.  I didn't catch them all, but I got the gist of what she was saying, and I nodded, murmuring impressed responses, finally ending by saying that her story was absolutely fascinating, which it was.

(The mill from 1036)

As the days passed, I also learned some technique and protocol. First, the French think Americans are very rude when they do not say "hello," before asking for something.  This made me realize how often we go up to a desk and say, generally in a nice tone of voice, "Do you know where...?" or "Can you help me find...."  I made a point to remember to say, "Bonjour" first.

One time, I was frustrated, trying to use my international phone card to call my parents.  I had been concerned about being far away from them for two weeks.  I walked to the desk and said, in French, "I'm having trouble using the phone."  I had forgotten to say "hello" before my question.  The receptionist answered me in English....

(Virginia and Bill have a sandwich at the beach, St. Jean de Luz)

And I learned how to end phrases like the French do, with a little tag on the ends of words, making a softer ending.  Better yet, I became comfortable using the breathy French "r."  It helped that our bus driver did not speak English and that his name was Eric.  Every day, we got on the bus, saying "Bonjour, Eric."  By the end of the trip, I could say the "r" in his name almost as well as our tour director did.

Eventually, we had to return to Charles de Gaulle airport.  That's it, I thought, I'm done speaking French in France.  It had been so much fun, and I probably would never do it again.  I felt sad about the end of the tour and the end of my language experience.  We stood in a long line for security.  Around me, people spoke in many tongues, but the dominant one I heard was American English.

(The high Pyrenees at Lourdes)

With my carry-on open for inspection, I waited for the security guard to ask me the usual questions.  I was shocked when he threw out a slew of them in French.  At first, I wondered if I should respond in English.  Surely, he knew I was American, and security processing was serious.  Should I play around with words now?  Then I thought, it's my last chance!  I said the appropriate "no" and "oui" to "Has anyone else had your bag besides you?  Do you have a laptop? or a Kindle?"  It wasn't a creative conversation, but we communicated satisfactorily...and he let me on the plane.

By the time we had been home over a month, I had not spoken a word of French.  I'm sure I've lost my "r", I thought, and those nice phrase-endings that I had learned felt long ago.  Neither of my French groups met in the summer. I began to think that these past few years of trying to re-learn French actually had been about going to France.  I had been kidding myself with all that esoteric nonsense about widening my American English perspective.

(Farmer's Market at Libourne)

Then an email arrived from a woman in the wine-and-cheese party group.  In French, she wrote, "We don't meet in the summer, but I'm around.  If anyone is free, come to my house Friday evening."  I went, and so did about 15 other people. This time, I brought a fruit plate--I knew the drill now.  As before, the others welcomed me and a few remembered me.

Most of the attendees were native speakers or teachers of French, yet no one was impatient with me, and I was not the only participant with mediocre skill.  Best of all, I remembered  the "r" and the phrase endings. 

(Golden-colored stone in Old Nice)

After two hours, I could hardly think anymore; I was so exhausted from trying to understand and to speak, but what fun!  When I got home, I wrote down the new words that I had learned.  I would need to keep progressing if I were going to go to this group now and then.  And, as far as talking French in France, well, most of all it had been a lot of fun. And now, back home, maybe someday, I will have a soiree at my house!

(The Eiffel Tower is 125 years old this year, Paris)

Monday, June 30, 2014

In the June Gardens

(some of the plantings look like they just happened to grow with one another, but Monet planned every combination of color and texture.)

On the next to last day of our two-week tour of France, Bill and I visited impressionist painter, Claude Monet's, famous gardens at Giverny.  I knew going to Giverny would be a highlight of our trip.  Rain held off and gray skies did not diminish the brilliant colors of Monet's "Clos Normand" garden near the house.  A Clos Normand garden is a cottage garden in Normandy enclosed by hedges and fences.  I was in heaven, taking pictures and sniffing roses, as I walked on the paths.

(From a bedroom window, I could see across the entire garden.  Beyond the trees is the pond and water garden.)

Like a living impressionist painting, these gardens were a sea of mixed colors and flower varieties. Rose standards and trellises bloomed in every shade, with seemingly disorganized perennials beneath. Arbors arched over the path and in front of the house. When we went in the house and looked out the open upstairs bedroom windows, we looked right onto the top of the arbors. What would it be like to get up in the morning and open the windows to a sea of roses at eye level?

(Monet spent years choosing colors for the house itself, which he first rented, and then owned.)

When I got home and had books from the library, I learned that, in fact, the gardens were very organized in color combinations that Monet took from his palette. When one section bloomed as he had planned, he would go out with his easel and paint it.  After that, he would no longer be interested in that part of the garden, waiting for the next combination of colors and textures to bloom.  His love of gardening and devotion to painting were completely intertwined. 

(Monet painted his pond view, with the arched Japanese bridge, over and over.  Eventually, he decided to concentrate just on the lilies, the water, and the reflections, with no other flowers or structures in the painting.)

Ten years after creating the Clos Normand garden, Monet was able to buy land across the railroad tracks, received a permit from the village, and created a pond from a tributary of the nearby Epte River. We felt instantly transported into the water-lilies paintings. Huge willows hung in the foreground, and big-leaved plants grew alongside flowers of all kinds. A couple of men stood in Monet's boat maintaining the water garden amidst the lilies. From the arching Japanese-style bridge, we could look over the curves of the ponds and the surrounding trees and flowers.

(Monet set up his easel in this spot to capture the pond framed by the willows.  Every day his gardeners still prune the lily pads to keep some of the water open for reflections)

Every part of the garden is a framed picture either by hanging willow branches, arched roses, or bridges. I was surprised that there were five bridges; I expected just the one that is featured so often in the paintings. I was also surprised that the pond was smaller than I had imagined, creating an inviting intimacy.


(I am dwarfed by the plants at Monet's water garden.  He loved all the green shapes and textures amidst the flowers.)

Monet planted the water-lilies on a whim.  He said, "It took me a long time to understand my waterlilies...and then, all of a sudden I had the revelation of the enchantment of my pond.  I took up my palette.  Since then I've had no other motif."  Monet's water-lilies' paintings abound.  Fortunately for us, they are in many museums.  I remember being awe-struck by how huge the one is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Now, I have learned how his style evolved from year-to-year, and that he had to build a larger studio to accommodate the ever-increasing size of the water-lilies pictures.

(I was pleased to still be able to enjoy the iris bed at my house when we returned from our trip to France.)

But, returning to Albany after being away for two weeks, I discovered that my own garden was a jungle.  Weeds grew as tall as the iris.  The good thing was that the spring flowers were still in bloom.  I had thought I would miss them.  I spent an hour or two each evening taming my garden.  Still, evenings were long and cool.  It was nice to be outdoors bringing a temporary order, as I thought about Monet's mingling of life and art.

(The pond is the central feature at Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, NY.)

Towards the end of June, my friend, Rosemary, visited from Wisconsin.  She is an avid gardener, so I enjoy taking her to unusual places when she makes an annual visit.  My long-time blog readers will remember Innisfree Garden from a post I wrote last year ( http://nooksandvales.blogspot.com/2013/09/innisfree-garden.html  ).  Every time I go, I take someone new, and Rosemary was the perfect companion.  She had read about Innisfree in detail and knew its history, its design featuring native and Asian elements, and about its struggle to stay afloat in difficult financial times.

(I love little stone stairways, nearly covered with flowers, such as this one at Innisfree Garden.)

We walked from one vignette or "cup garden," to the next, up and down stairways and on garden paths.  At one point we sat on a bench and talked about the gardens, but also about our families and our lives.  Bringing Rosemary to a peaceful, quiet place of beauty, gave us a relaxed environment in which to catch up.  And, or course, I had brought a picnic, which we ate, while sitting in Adirondack chairs overlooking the pond. 

Finally, the month of June waned, but a major highlight for me awaited.  For my birthday last Thanksgiving, Bill had said that he would give me a ticket to visit children's illustrator Tasha Tudor's house and garden in Marlboro, Vermont.  Although no longer living, Tasha Tudor was famous for her gardens, as well as for the 100+ books she illustrated.  Her gardens became well-known in the early 1990s, when they were featured in books and magazine articles.

These days, the family allows 15 people to tour the house and garden on just 8 mornings between May and October. In January, the tickets go on sale online and are gone within a half hour.  One January evening, when I was at orchestra, Bill was one of the first buyers and got me a ticket for June 28, my first choice.

(Tasha's house is in this weathered Cape Cod style, but this is actually The Rookery, the offices of the business, Tasha Tudor and Family.)

We were not allowed to bring cameras on the tour, so I can only tell you about the beauty that I saw.

Clearly, we had lucked out with this day, a summer morning with a cloudless sky, and temperatures about 70 degrees. Our late spring meant that peonies, bleeding hearts, and wiegela were still blooming at the same time as summer roses and clematis, making an amazing show. The rock walls in front of the house, so visible in the 1990s books were now invisible behind cascading wild roses and terraces of cultivated roses, foxglove, and delphinium. Only mown grassy paths separated the gardens, and little stone stairways hidden amidst the blossoms led from one level to another.

I realized how efficient the property was. The flower gardens were just steps away from the door of the house, and immediately beyond lay the vegetable and herb gardens, the bay tree in its place of honor amidst a brick labyrinth, and half a dozen apple trees. Even the pond was only feet from the vegetable garden. We saw the “fairy ring” bordered by peonies, Tasha's favorite white pine in the azalea garden, the ferns in her secret garden, and on and on.

The other participants and I commented on the work of maintaining a garden like this, but Winslow, Tasha's grandson, said they only weed once, when the plants start really growing in the spring. After that the gardens are so lush, that they only pull up a weed now and then. He said, “Granny knew what to plant that would work in each place without having to be maintained all the time.” In the fall, Tasha, and now the family, cut down all the plants for the winter, and laid two-year-old goat manure on the gardens, and mulch on top of that.

(What are my chances of success in growing a whole bush from this?)

Winslow gave us each a cutting from a wild rose bush to take home and root. Petals began to fall while I was still in the car.  I was pretty skeptical that I could make a bush for my garden from this, but I have given it my best effort and good vibes. In my first hour at home, I went to Home Depot for growth hormones, found the proper mix of soil and sand in my garage, and planted the stem, first clipping off all the flowers, watered it, and enclosed the pot and cutting in a plastic bag, just the way I had read that I should do.  Now two days later, the leaves haven't died or fallen off, so I'm off to a good start...but, just in case this rooting experiment doesn't work out, I have pressed some of the flowers under a heavy garden book.

(Monet would have wanted to add a splash of deep blue to this over-abundance of pink, but both he and Tasha would enjoy the sprawl of those poppy mallows that want to take over the grass)

In the meantime, my own garden moved along with the month of June.  A long time ago, I read a book where a gardener basically said, if you can't create a nice garden in June, you might as well give it up (my paraphrasing).  With plenty of rain and lots of sun, the flowers make a great show.  Okay, it's not Monet's, Tasha's, or the Innisfree Garden, but now-and-then, in the early morning, I see a passer-by stop to take pictures.  And my next-door neighbor makes the garden tour every day at 6 a.m. while he waits for the newspaper delivery.

There aren't many ideas that I can take from all the places I visited this June to use on my small urban property, but they have inspired me to keep weeding, and to respect the evolution of a garden when some plants don't make it through the winter, while other surprises seem to appear out of nowhere.

Now, does anyone know where I can get some nicely aged goat manure this fall?

(my fence buried under Cape Cod roses, looking towards my house)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Three New Jersey Walks

(the Palisades Park trail begins on this historic road)

Thomas called days before we were to visit him and Marlie in Jersey City, and said, "What do you want to do when you're here?"  My answer is always the same, "Take us somewhere in New Jersey that we've never been to before."  This is an easy request, because Bill and I have hardly been anywhere in New Jersey.

In the past few years, we've gone to interesting bars, delicious restaurants, bakeries, apple farms, and city parks in New Jersey.  We have also been to amazing natural areas that are filled with history and beauty.

This past March, Thomas drove us to Palisades Interstate Park for a hike.  Entering the park, high above the river, and rounding ever-descending horseshoe bends to river level, we parked at Alpine Landing. The Landing was once an active place of commerce, near a break in the cliffs, where merchants with wagons pulled by oxen could meet arriving trade ships. 

(views of the rugged Palisades and the Hudson River abound)

As soon as we started up the trail, we passed a large stone commemorating the unsuccessful attempt by British Commander Cornwallis to intercept George Washington, using this trail, on his way to Trenton, during the Revolution.

Marlie, Thomas, Bill, and I planned to make an entire loop of five miles--up to the top, across the plateau, down to the Hudson River, and along the shoreline back to the car. Although I had seen the rocky cliffs of the Palisades many times from the train on the east side of the river, hiking both above and below the cliffs was a new adventure. Once we reached  the plateau, we were rewarded with views of the Hudson north and south for miles. "With rock like this," I said, "we should see an eagle."

(Cliff Dale house foundation)

 As we traversed the flat top of the ridge, we began to notice overgrown paths, foundation remains, and plantings from cultivated gardens of long ago. I was fascinated by the paths and walkways that emerged from the forest floor. We speculated that they originated from bygone luxurious homes of the wealthy that would have dotted this high promontory.  Eventually, we stumbled upon a huge foundation. 

(a graceful stairway from long ago)

Later, at home, I read that these remains had belonged to Cliff Dale, the mansion of George Zabriskie, who made a name for himself as a representative for Pillsbury flour.  Although Palisades Interstate Park was first begun in 1900, the building of the George Washington Bridge in 1931 prompted John D. Rockefeller Jr. to buy up properties to add to the park, as assurance against development that he knew would come with easy access across the bridge to Manhattan.  When he donated the land to the park commission, Rockefeller required that all structures be razed, and Cliff Dale fell.

(Cliff Dale Manor, 1911-1939, note the foundation in front)

After hiking a couple of miles along the plateau, we made an abrupt descent on numerous switchbacks to the river.  "You would think we would see an eagle," I said.

At the river's edge, the water, at high tide, made the soothing lapping sound of waves hitting the rocks.

(Thomas begins the steep descent to the river)

(The Lower Hudson, up close and personal!)

 We walked and chatted, and then Marlie called out, "An eagle!"  "Mom! An eagle!" Thomas echoed, making sure I didn't miss it.  Above the trees, the large dark bird with white head and tail soared. As if the history, the mansion ruins, the walk in the woods with my family, and the peaceful shoreline walk along the Hudson River were not enough, the eagle made my day.  We watched it fly out toward the water and then back over the cliffs and out of sight.

(the trail continues just above and alongside the river)

A couple of years ago, Bill and I also drove south in March for a New Jersey weekend.  Visiting in late winter is appealing, because it's almost spring in New Jersey, and still winter at home in Albany.  And it's a time when our children can more easily fit us into their hectic work schedules.

That time, we visited DeKorte Park, part of the New Jersey Meadowlands in Lyndhurst.  The history here is fascinating.  This park is reclaimed from 300 years as a riverside garbage dump.  Now it's a showplace with an observatory and a center for Environmental Studies.  It is also an important bird watching area as part of the Atlantic flyway.

(Meredith and Marlie enjoy this "please touch" turtle exhibit!)

Trails over one-lane dirt roads and board walks crisscross the waterways and park perimeters.  Signage tells us what we might observe at various locations.

(DeKorte museum and environmental center on stilts over the water)
(the Jersey Turnpike and Manhattan beyond)

As we walked farther out on the trails, we could hear traffic noise from the New Jersey turnpike.  Rather than taking away from our experience, the sound only heightened our awareness of how the urban and the natural can co-exist if given a chance.

(the area is restored with native plantings)

When we returned to the parking area, we saw trailheads edged by daffodils, leading to the hill nearby. As extraordinary as reclaiming the marsh had been, this garden that covered part of a modern-day landfill, today's garbage solution, also completely intrigued us.  We were fascinated by the ecological success of a once-destroyed tidal mud flat.

(Trail up the landfill garden.  The landfill's liner is made from 400,000 recycled soda bottles.)

Last year, I drove down to New Jersey in March by myself. When I arrived, Thomas said, "I thought we'd go to Paterson.  There's a waterfall there."  With Marlie at work, just Thomas and I headed out for the day.

We parked within feet of a huge statue of Alexander Hamilton, a good sign that early history was made here.  A walkway led us above the 77-foot high Great Falls of the Passaic River, part of the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park.

In 1792, Hamilton set up an investment group to fund the creation of America's first planned industrial city. While many different mills were built, silk manufacture dominated, and Paterson became known as the "silk city." We could imagine that anyone coming upon the power of this waterfall would see great potential for industry.

(the walkway made it possible for us to look down on the waterfalls)
We walked across to the far side, observing the falls from every angle, and then went back to the car.  There was little else to do in the neighborhood, after we had explored the historic park, and, anyway, Thomas had researched another park for us to visit in Paterson.

Up and up on residential streets, we drove, until we reached roads that wound through the woods of  expansive Garret Mountain Reservation. We parked near a castle and observation tower once owned by a wealthy silk manufacturer.  Since we had just seen the Great Falls, we knew all about local silk manufacturing!  Trails headed in two directions; we picked one that led out across the ridge.

(Thomas sits on the ridge overlooking Paterson, with the Manhattan skyline beyond)

A pervasive quiet was only broken by bird calls. How amazing to be able to look down on such urban views from this point of solitude.

At times the path became rubbly with black volcanic basalt, which could be treacherous underfoot. Eventually, we came to an equestrian center, still within the reservation, and then we turned back, retracing our steps past all the peaceful bluffs we had seen on the way in.  I thought that, if I lived in densely populated Paterson, I would try to come to this oasis as often as possible.

(volcanic basalt lies under the grass on this ridge)

It's fun to explore new places, and, at the end of the day when we're back at their apartment, Thomas always prepares a delicious dinner for us, and Marlie, creates a gourmet dessert. This is one great getaway package deal!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

St. Patrick's Day, NYC!

(Virginia and Meredith decked out with festive shamrock antennae, earrings, hair pieces, beads and scarves)

Meredith said, "If you're ever going to go to the St. Patrick's Day parade, this is the year.  I'm taking the day off, and everybody else is working.  You should come down."

Ever since Thomas, Marlie, and Meredith, moved to New York, I have talked about going to the parade.  It either didn't fit my schedule, or it didn't really seem like the place for me.  If the parade was on or near the weekend, both Thomas and Meredith knew that I wouldn't enjoy the huge weekend crowds and all the bar-hopping.  With the parade on Monday this year, I couldn't refuse.

On a recent trip to Albany, Meredith had suggested we go to a party store and peruse the St. Patrick's Day supplies.  She picked out colored hair pieces, and I spotted large shamrock earrings for $2.49.  I fingered a head band that had sparkly shamrocks on antennae.  "If you want anything," Meredith said, "you should buy it here.  It will cost a lot more if you buy anything in New York."  I figured I could swing the 99 cents for the head band!

Our first stop after my arrival at Port Authority, was for coffee and a bun in a nearby shop.  The cashier, who had green fingernails, looked at us both and asked, "what are you dressed up for?"  At first we thought she was kidding, but then realized that she really wanted to know.  Meredith said, "It's St. Patrick's Day.  There's going to be a big parade today."  "That's cool," the young woman responded.

We took a seat in the little cafe.  A middle-aged woman came up to me.  My green accessories, along with a shamrock scarf that I had from years of playing St. Patrick's Day concerts, made me kind of obvious.
"Are you Irish?" the woman asked me.
"Well," I stammered. "I'm not from Ireland."
"I mean are you of Irish heritage?"
"Yes, but a ways back," I said.
"So am I.  Where are you from?"
"Albany," I answered.
"No, I mean where are you from in Ireland?"
I was coming off pretty clueless so far, and it wasn't getting better.  I thought of my father's family from Northern Ireland, and my mother's ancestors from the Republic of Ireland.
Meredith jumped in, "Just say Tipperary," she said.  "It's nice there."
"Well," the woman said, "I'm from Dublin."

I laughed--one woman with green nail polish knew nothing about St. Patrick's Day, and another, who came off as 100% New York, considered herself practically right off the boat from the Emerald Isle.

We left the cafe and headed into the crowds near mid-town. Young people, laughing and shouting, jostled in bunched-up groups at the street corners.  "How are you doing?" Meredith called to me above the din.  "I'm fine, as long as no one spills beer on me," I said.

We made our way towards St. Patrick's Cathedral, where the parade groups gave special performances just as they do in front of Macy's during the Thanksgiving Day parade.  I wanted to experience the parade at mid-town, but, before long, we decided to move on.  "Let's get on the subway and go to the Upper East Side," Meredith suggested.  "It won't be crowded there." 

(delicious green beverages)

As a former Upper East Side resident, she knew from experience where to go.  We found a spot near 77th Street.  The crowd thinned out and we could stand at the curb.  There was lots of room.  "This will be a good place to spot Eddie, too," she said, "because we're almost where the parade ends."  Eddie, a member of our extended family and an Emergency Medical Technician with the Fire Department of New York, was marching in the parade. It would be a while before he got this far north.  After all, we had seen the beginning of the parade in mid-town, and it was just now arriving at 77th Street--deja vu!

Meredith reached into her hand bag.  "I brought green snacks," she said, pulling out drinks and zip lock bags. I am always amazed at what the young women I know carry with them.  Often, besides water bottles and snacks, there are the usual things like a wallet, phone, but also maps, or a book, even shoes.  And whenever I am with Meredith, and I am awkwardly carrying something like a water bottle, she will say, "Put it in my bag. I can carry it," and it disappears.

I couldn't believe how tasty the juice was, made from kiwi, spinach, pineapple, apple, and broccoli. How festive!  Then when she opened a bag of snap pea crisps, I could have eaten them all; they were that good.

(yummy snap pea crisps)

It was fun to be able to see all the bands and marching up close, and also in the distance for many blocks down Fifth Avenue.  I was surprised at how often there were large breaks between sections of the parade.  There could easily be a couple of blocks between one group and another.  "It's like that at Thanksgiving, too," Meredith told me.  "You just can't tell when you see it on television."

Meredith communicated regularly with Jocelin about Eddie's progress.  Jocelin was still at her apartment and not planning to brave the cold and wind until Eddie was near the end of the route.  Then she would arrive at our location, in time to see him pass by.  Eddie had told Jocelin that everyone walks faster when the weather is cold, so, once he started moving, it wouldn't take that long to go thirty blocks on Fifth Avenue.

It was cold, and with a strong wind. My toes began to go numb and I hopped up and down to stay warm.

After a while, I left Meredith to take some pictures of people watching the parade.  "I want babies and old men," I told her.  I had visions of wealthy babies all dressed in green here on the Upper East Side, and old white-haired men in plaid caps smoking pipes--stereotypes for sure.  I walked a few blocks north and south and found that babies and old men knew better than to stand out here and freeze.  I did see some hardy girls and women, though.

(This Irish lass looks familiar!  Maybe she's from Tipperary....)


St. Patrick's Day parades have engendered considerable controversy in recent years, especially in New York and Boston.  We found it ironic that parade leaders, who would not allow gay people to march in the parade, apparently had no problem including the British army!

(the Red Coats!?)

It was fun to see other ethnic groups, too, in native garb.  A Spanish contingent wore beautiful bright wool clothing.  Their red dresses looked cheerful and warm on this cold gray day.

(marching Spanish girls)

A text came from Jocelin that Eddie was coming along, and that she and a friend were getting on the subway to meet us.  A sea of American flags showed bright in the distance as the FDNY approached. 

Sadly, there was one group of FDNY marchers carrying a banner that read, "Families of Fallen Firefighters."  Children and adults carried pictures of their loved ones.  It is good to remember that these men and women often risk their lives for the city's residents.

(FDNY flag brigade)

Jocelin and her friend ran up to us.  "Eddie should be here in a minute," she said. "He was right; they did walk faster than other years!"  We did not see Eddie marching.  Instead, when his group arrived, Eddie and his friend, Bruce, dashed out of formation, just two blocks before the end of the parade, hopped the curb fence, gave Jocelin a kiss, and were ready to relax.

(Bruce, Jocelin, and Eddie)

We headed over to Johnny Foxes, a bar a few blocks away.  Uniformed members of the NYPD and the FDNY were everywhere, walking, chatting with friends, laughing with one another, and on the lookout for good food and drink.

(Meredith and Virginia at Johnny Foxes bar)

Jocelin and Eddie, and their friends, were going back to mid-town where Bruce was hosting a house party.  Although he invited us to join them, Meredith and I chose to spend our remaining time on the Upper East Side.  A work colleague had offered Meredith use of her apartment on this day, so that we could warm up, sit down, and have the lunch Meredith had prepared (and was carrying in her hand bag). 

It is always fun to see different apartments. This two-bedroom place had a highly desirable location and ample space.  When we arrived at the front desk to get the key, the doorman teased us, saying that he would go out drinking with us after his shift. We still looked like revelers with my antennae and Meredith's colorful hair.

In the apartment, it felt great to sit down on the couch and eat a green lunch of pitas with spinach leaves, sliced Granny Smith apples, and cheese.

(view from Meredith's friend's apartment, Upper East Side)

Time was passing, and we needed to get the subway, so that I could go back to Port Authority for the bus home.  There was just enough time to stop at Crumbs for a cupcake, not far from the 96th Street station.

(oreo cookie cupcake with my scarf)

 Once on the bus, I texted with Meredith.  After leaving me at Port Authority, she had gone to Bruce's apartment for the party.  Eventually, Thomas and Marlie would also arrive at Bruce's from work, and then they would all go to see the Irish rock band Black 47.

I tucked my antennae into a plastic bag.  I had gotten more than my 99 cents worth out of them!  I would put away the shamrock earrings to wear on future St. Patrick's Days in Albany.  This had been the year for a New York adventure!