I Love New York. Except For This One Guy …

A friend of mine posted this HuffPo article (“New Yorkers Aren’t Rude. You Are.”) on Facebook a few weeks ago, and a conversation sprang up among several of us who have had nothing but wonderful experiences in New York.
Fifth Avenue Snow
(Shared from Flickr, photo by Michael Elliott.)

It’s true! I am not a city sophisticate by any stretch of the imagination. (Although I hasten to add I grew up near San Francisco and spent a lot of time there in my youth; now I live very near Nashville and am in and out of town regularly. Even downtown.) Still, I know I’m out of my element in New York, which is a very big city. Yet the first time I went there (very early ’90s, stayed in Midtown), sort of expecting rude, I had a marvelous experience. For real. This formed my attitude about New York City, and I was anxious to go again. (And did.)

Since then, I’ve visited other large cities—Chicago, Dublin, and Paris, most notably—and also had wonderful experiences. So I was primed to agree with this article … until I read it. Sure, it’s crowded, and sure, tourists do stupid things (like stopping dead in the middle of the sidewalk, rather than moving to the side, as they would if they were driving). The writer of this article says,

For some reason, a huge number of tourists to New York seem to totally forget that when you are a guest somewhere, it behooves YOU to learn the unwritten rules of conduct so that you will not upset the delicate social balance of the place you are visiting. Because New York relies so much on foot traffic, these people often utterly disrupt the flow in the subway or on the street, and then complain that New Yorkers are “rude” when we do not accommodate their interference with our lives. …

And yet, every day I see tourists and just general social malefactors who stop in the middle of sidewalks, who hold up entire subway trains because they try to force the doors open, who block a stairwell or who try to get on a subway car before they let anyone else off.

This is a sense of entitlement that the pace of this city cannot abide. …

Your trip to the bank or to the American Museum of Natural History is not something that should interfere with the professional lives of 1,000 people. So when you hold that subway car, and people curse at you, or when you prevent them from getting off the train and they barrel right into you, there’s a simple lesson: this is your fault ….

Wait—what? When I’m in an elevator and the door opens at my floor and someone jumps into the car before I can exit, I just put my hand across the door to hold it open and then get off. Not everyone was raised the same way. Not everyone is as aware as we might want them to be. And this is not, for God’s sake, a matter of life and death. I’m also not convinced New Yorkers are the delicate hothouse flowers the author would have us think. Sometimes they are just impatient (as we all can be). Sometimes they are … rude.

I learned this in a very personal way. It was about this time of year (January, cold, snow on the ground) about fifteen years ago that I visited New York City for only the second time in my life. Gerry and I were using the subway, and I was apparently walking on the wrong side of a set of stairs going down, and I didn’t know there’s a rule, according to this man, about which side of the stairwell to use.

It was not crowded, not at all. In this particular section of the stairwell, there were three of us, maybe four. The man was coming up the stairs on the same path as I was going down—the left—and when he got to me, he refused to move, even though he was tall and thin and fit and much younger, and didn’t need to hold on to the rail at all.

This man didn’t know, of course, that I am physically weak on my left side and need to hold on to the handrail with my left hand. I always gravitate to the left of the stairs, whether I am going up or down.

So there we were, both stopped, him on the stair below me, glaring at me. And all he wanted to do was teach me a lesson.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“You’re on the wrong side,” he said. Gerry had already moved over for him, but stairs have always been problematic for me. I didn’t want to let go.

And he didn’t budge. So I told him I was a middle-aged lady who needed help and that he was an asshole. Which he was. I had to walk around him. He strutted off, very proud of himself for holding the line for true New Yorkers.

That’s the only negative experience I’ve ever had in New York, but it was a doozie. I’ll never forget it.

Here’s the thing. I did read this whole article (more than once), and I do get it. However, the unwritten rules the author speaks of are concepts the tourist has no way of knowing without a significant amount of time spent in the city. That’s why the residents know them and the nonresidents don’t know them. Dublin City has a lot of people in high-powered jobs too (honestly, the writer gets no sympathy from me on that point; everyone’s time and lives are important) and I have many times, I know, been in the way, much more so than I ever was in NY, and yet I have never had a Dubliner accost me and tell me off.

I agree the writer of this article has a point—and I realize this sounds like I am taking the position that New Yorkers are rude when in fact Gerry and I went on to have a fabulous time on that trip, with wonderful interactions with locals on the subway, on the sidewalk, in restaurants, our hotel—but he’s not making it in a way that makes me sympathetic. I just don’t think you can justify rude. My mother used to say there was no substitute for good manners and no excuse for bad ones.

Still true.


O Canada …

I lived in Canada—in Stephenville, on the island of Newfoundland—when I was a kid. (Daddy was a helicopter pilot in the US Air Force, which had an outpost there.) It’s one of the most vivid memories of my childhood.

I wouldn’t mind going back to see it. (Though maybe in summer.)

Beautiful downtown Stephenville, ca. 1959, mid-autumn.

Beautiful downtown Stephenville, ca. 1959, mid-autumn. (Click to enlarge so you can read the signs.)

A few years ago I read a book—Theatre of Fish: Travels Through Newfoundland and Labrador by John Gimlette—which whetted my appetite for a return visit someday. I even had a little email correspondence about it with the author, who was very generous with his time and advice. We’d have to go in August, it seems.

That isn’t the only book with a Canadian setting in my collection of books (here is a good list of books set in Canada to start with), but I’m particularly fond of novelists Margaret Atwood (who wouldn’t be?) and Louise Penny … or perhaps I should say I want to visit Penny’s fictional Three Pines. I’ve learned a lot about Québec and Canadian history from Penny’s novels about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and now of Three Pines.

But really I just wrote this post to inform you that Canada will be marking its sesquicentennial next year, and to celebrate, all of Canada’s national parks will be fee-free—for the year. There are 38 national parks and 8 national park reserves in Canada, so you’ll need to get a move on if you want to see them all while they’re free. Here are just the ones that are World Heritage sites:

If you can look at the photos in these links and remain unmoved, I’ve got nothin’ for ya.

A Funny Little Travel Mystery …

Three or so years ago, when I returned from a cross-country trip (I’d flown), I opened my suitcase—and inside it was sprinkled with glitter confetti. You know the sort of thing I mean: metallic, sparkly, squares and circles and a myriad colors.

There was a lot of glitter. Immediately noticeable. My clothes were covered in it. I saved what was in the bottom in a Ziploc bag, which I still have on my desk. Where in the world did it come from? I was traveling at Christmas—did the TSA sprinkle a little glitter cheer inside when they opened my bag?

I still have no idea.

And now I have a second mystery. When I arrived in Ireland last fall, I opened my suitcase to get out some things I’d brought for Bridie, and a mother-of-pearl bead fell out onto the floor. Odd. I picked it up and put it in a little zippered bag I travel with. During the trip, which was three weeks long, these beads continued to show up at random times.

Trust me when I say I had that suitcase opened and closed and rearranged a zillion times, so you’d think if they were there I’d have found them all at once. But no—they’d just pop out of nowhere, days apart. Some are flat(ish) with a hole in the center, some are thicker and the hole runs from top to bottom. Toward the end of the trip I found a spherical one. The day we got home I found a little cube and another flat one. It is the most mysterious thing …!

Ten little beads, and the little Royal Tara cream pitcher I bought at Malin Head on Inishowen.

Ten little beads, and the little Royal Tara cream pitcher I bought at Malin Head on Inishowen.

Where Did You Go in 2015?

Some of you may still have a little bit of holiday vacation left … You may well be taking the tree down or getting ready to start work or school on Monday. But maybe, just maybe, you’ve got a little time to curl up with a good #longread and your travel dreams.

If so, I wanted to be sure you didn’t miss the New York Times’s recap of “The Most Popular Travel Destination Stories of 2015.” Here they are:

• Paris: A $1,000 Day in Paris for $100
A Paris concierge’s idea of the perfect day on the town—but our reporter organizes a similar day at a tenth of the price. And you know how I feel about Paris. Let’s go!

• Lake Michigan: A Tour of Lake Michigan, My Inland Sea
Striking topography, time-worn communities and the reassuring permanence of an unchanging lake. My mother grew up in Chicago and regularly swam the lake; I’ve had this trip in mind for a long time!

• Tucson, Arizona: In Tucson, an Unsung Architectural Oasis
One of the city’s better-kept secrets is how often you can find significant examples of mid-twentieth-century architecture. I’ve been to south Arizon a few times in recent years, but never Tucson—and I have friends there! Need to put this on my list.

• Rome, Italy: When in Rome, Learn to Cook Italian
If you go to Rome to dine, you’re getting only a taste of Italian culture. For a 
full immersion, you’ve got to make some pasta and traditional sauces yourself. A good friend of mine lives in Rome, and I often read Facebook posts (and see photos) about the cooking! OK, I’m game!

• Montana, Wyoming and Idaho: A Rookie’s Road Trip
A car-averse traveler finds freedom in the driver’s seat, covering 700 miles and three states over three days. I think Ann Patchett did this in a Winnebago and made it sound fun. This article does too.

• Yorkshire, England: Where Dracula Was Born, and It’s Not Transylvania
Bram Stoker found inspiration for his famous Gothic villain in an unlikely place—a sunny seaside Yorkshire village. It’s been more than a decade since I was anywhere in England; I’d love to go again!

• Puerto Rico: The Many Faces of Puerto Rico
Gallery openings, vibrant restaurants, hotel development, and preserved examples of the old way of life play well together in Puerto Rico. From my side of the States, this would be a relatively inexpensive “exotic” vacation. Hmmm …

• Tuscany and Puglia, Italy: Italy’s Treasured Olive Oil, at the Source
In Tuscany and Puglia, making olive oil is a lifestyle, one threatened by bad weather and a killer bacteria. Food is my favorite souvenir!

• LA to Mexico: On a Gay Cruise, Just One of the Guys
A cruise that conjures up the thumpa-thumpa club scene does more than you’d think: it creates a worry-free space where being gay is the norm. This isn’t my demographic, but it might be yours. 🙂

• 6 Places in Africa: Into Africa—Vacation Ideas
The Times asked current and former NYT international news correspondents, who have collectively spent 25 years reporting in Africa, to tell what to do in the regions they’ve covered.

• Italy, Yet Again: A Honeymoon Through Italy
The reporter says: “We danced at midnight in Venice, motored through Tuscany and made memories. Just as newlyweds should.” I had a three-week honeymoon myself this year … but who says you have to be on a honeymoon to take this trip?

So there you have it—eleven fabulous stories to whet your appetite for travel! Where did you go in 2015? Where will you go in 2016?