Monday, 29 September 2008

Liberty.

Well, I had the best time. The palpitations of anxiety I felt just before I left, vanished as soon as I got in the car and by the time I was wandering around Terminal 3 at Heathrow airport it was hard to imagine that I was a wife and mother of four. To be honest I would have been happy to have spent a couple of days at the airport. “There is so much to see, so many perfumes to smell, so many handbags to fondle”, I said to the lady at the Jo Malone shop, my little face eager and excited by the variety of sensations bombarding me. The woman looked back at me with a look that most definitely implied, “Poor little provincial soul”. No doubt used to seasoned travellers who know exactly what they want, I took my time in every shop, exasperating the staff who wanted a sale from a rich businesswoman but I, as far removed from rich businesswoman as you could possibly get, meandered leisurely, unimpeded by the wants and needs of my rather large family.
The flight itself was thank God, without incident. In fact the aeroplane was half empty and so, once we had taken off, were free to sit wherever we chose. Minutes later with legs stretched out at the bulk head, a glass of wine in hand, headphones attached, movie on, I was like the proverbial pig in bliss and seemingly minutes later we were touching down at JFK airport. Luckily, due to the time of night, there were few people in the queue at the immigration desk. This was extremely advantageous otherwise I might have been there all night, not only because everyone now arriving in the States is required to go through the whole finger printing procedure and have their photos taken and their retinas scanned, but also because my immigration officer ‘came on to me’ as they say. By this time I was feeling rather weary and was not really up to having to deal with an amorous official. I was also in a rather compromising position. I could hardly tell him to ‘eff orf’ or he wouldn’t have let me in and besides, who would have believed my story? So I had to grin and bear it as he continued with his smarmy rhetoric, “Hey delicious lady, you married?” when I told him 17 years, he rather lasciviously replied, “No way man! Fancy a little variety in your diet? Must be boring eating hamburger every night”. I had to explain to Hubby via text what that meant: ‘He was comparing eating the same thing night after night for 17 years with sleeping with the same man. Wasn’t I bored? Wasn’t it samey?’
‘You should have told him that sometimes you alternate between ketchup and mustard’, quipped Hubby.
‘Then he’d have thought I swung from Arthur to Martha’, I replied punching the phone.
‘Huh?’
‘Oh for heaven’s sake, I thought you sailors were the epitome in prurience. He’d have thought I was, well you know?’ Hubby didn’t know and the call was costing me a fortune, so I left it at that.
Finally and with a wink, I was on American soil and after a wild cab ride arrived at my friend’s fabulous house. What followed was some of the best few days of my life. I felt so liberated to be unencumbered by others that I felt as though my cage had been opened and for once in a very long time I was able to shake my tail feathers and fly free and swoop and soar.
To wander around Manhattan is not everyone’s cup of tea, not unless in the company of several friends but I like being by myself. Little makes me nervous and once I’d got the hang of the subway, well, I was like a native. Uptown and Downtown I travelled. Upper West Side, Upper East Side, I traversed. Broadway, Grammercy Park. Soho, Noho. I went to shops, restaurants, museums and galleries. I dined and partied and over a passion- fruit mimosa champagne cocktail, I, gently, turned down the advances of a Japanese dwarf. I brunched and lunched, and if ever I thought buying a coffee in America was confusing then a tall, single, skinny, misto, extra dry is nothing compared to ordering a salad. As I stood there behind Bergdorf Goodman’s amidst a gaggle of New Yorkers shouting out their orders, I was cowed into speechlessness when my turn came.
“C’mawn lady. I ain’t got all day”. Quickly, I chose my size and four toppings. I thought I’d cracked it until the guy shouted back at me, “Leaves?”
“Leaves?”
“Yeah lady, what leaves? Iceberg, mixed green, garden?” Oh I see. “Mixed green”, I yelled back. Phew, I was about to relax when the question of ‘dressing’ came up. I decided to go ‘naked’.
I listened to dozens of conversations that week, people-watched thousands and conversed with everyone from the wantonly, Latin lactation consultant to a gay actor who guided me through a ‘dodgier’ area to the old, fabulously glamorous Jewish woman on a bus down 5th Ave. She was, as was everyone I spoke to, alarmed by the sudden turn of events in the Presidential Race. It is surprising how profound a conversation one can have with a stranger on a twenty block bus ride. Her parting shot, “We gotta educate women. Let them choose a pregnancy or not. Stop them living lives of servitude”. Then I got off. Her words stayed with me. New York City is staunchly Democratic. It breathes liberalism; it advocates free choice, free speech, diversity, difference. Obama as they say, rocks. From personal experience, having lived in small town Pennsylvania, the rest of America ain’t so broad minded where creationists, pro-life nutters, homophobes and rampant racists live blissfully unchallenged, shoulder to shoulder. Unfortunately, ‘the rest of America’ is one hell of a lot of people and the New Yorkers have every reason to be alarmed.

NB: This post was not directed at my hosts, AG and CD who were the epitome of grace and generosity. Thankyou x.

10 comments:

anyscribbles said...

Wow Alice, sounds like an amazing trip and wonderful to be so free for a change. There's nothing like it is there. And once you've gone, you soon realise there's no point worrying about those back home!!
Glad you had such a lovely break.
Scribble

Alice Band said...

Scribble- Thanks. I had a lovely time and my husband was sooo glad to see me!

Eloise said...

Sounds like a wonderful and much-deserved getaway, Alice. I'm so happy you had this opportunity. Hope the weather was nice for you.

PS I love Jo Malone! Wonderful British products and beautiful packaging.

enidd said...

sounds fun! and ordering those sandwiches, god, enidd shudders every time.

Sally said...

I loved your airport experience. I can empathise!

I must say though that having recently "lost" ED to uni I feel bereft... and keep bemoaning the fact that the last 18 years have "gone" and "where did they go." I want it all back now. The nappies and all. And not more children you understand... the same ones but a repeat..... Will be on a blog soon in more detail....

Alice Band said...

Sally - I only wanted a brief escape but believe me I understand the bereft thing, with my boy 'in love' I have been relegated. Is that how it's goign to be now before he leaves home? I can't bear it.

Sally said...

Sadly yes probably... See my recent blog!

Mary Alice said...

Oh Alice, I am sooooo sad we were not able to meet up in NYC. Next time. Yes there are many different types liberal and conservative in the US. It's hard because they are so at odds with their ideas that often little real progress can be made. Rather like tug-a-war.

Anonymous said...

Cheers to you for taking on New York, especially solo! The Big Apple can be a formidable challenge even for us Yanks. Hurry back, there's more. Loved seeing you!

Anonymous said...

Gosh what a trip - I hope it was all you had imagined!