Okay, part II of my new life as a country bumpkin.
I haven’t taken to wearing dungarees, chewing on straw and belting out Tammy Wynette numbers just yet, but my country living is still in its infancy and there is a lot to learn.
To be honest, the motivation that led me to seek solace away from New York City was unexpected. As an adult, I’ve lived in cities all my life, in several countries. I love the flexibility that city life offers – of restaurants, night life, people. Coronavirus and lockdown changed all that, and NYC in particular feels less safe. Crime and violence have increased to such an extent, I no longer feel at ease on the streets where I once happily wandered home from my local bar at 4am (always the last order at the food truck en route). Being seated six feet apart from people when dining gives me a sense of isolation that often reduces me to tears. I am very lucky to have work and my health; despite having been sick, I now have the virus antibodies – and yes, I know they don’t necessarily last, so I err on the side of caution. I was just ready for a change of scenery, and one that didn’t involve a trek to the airport for a long flight to the UK or LA and being trapped at Minneapolis airport for eight hours.
I still have my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, but since moving to Beacon, I spend less time in the city. Being in the country brings so many benefits but is not without its stresses, too. So, here’s a follow-up to the last blog, at a time when I am learning how to adapt to this vast change of lifestyle.
1. There are no 24-hour stores in which to buy a pint of milk for my essential morning cup of tea. It is quicker to find a cow and pull on its udders it than wait for Key Foods to open
2. Everyone knows who you are and where you came from within a week. In these isolating times, it’s rather comforting. “Oh, you’re English Jaci,” I get in tones that might mean “Great to meet you”, or “So you’re the nut job we’ve been hearing about”. It seems churlish to correct people on my country of origin, and nobody understands it anyway. I can spend a 45-minute ride to the airport with a taxi driver, painstakingly explaining the geography of the UK, only to arrive at my destination with a parting: “So Wales is the capital of England?” Whaddever.
3. People are breathtakingly nice here – so much so, that I think they must be bag snatchers, just warming me up for the big SWAG descent. In the city, I take all my belongings to the rest room, just to be on the safe side – the only downer being that the waiter thinks I have left, and I return from the rest room to discover he/she has thrown away my dinner.
4. Unlike most people, I’ve never found NYC that expensive. You have to know where to go, what deals there are to be struck, both spoken and unspoken, and this applies pretty much to every bar and restaurant when you are a regular. By comparison, the country is extortionate. I talked about upstate NY in Part I, but here’s a more detailed breakdown about my visit to Hudson, a lovely town further up the valley, where the cheapest hotel room available was $884.80 – for just two nights! SIX HUNDRED AND NINETY SIX POUNDS. A meal for two of us, with tip, was close on $300, and we didn’t even have a bottle of wine, just a couple of glasses each. I know I am repeating myself, but I’m still in shock. The story is that with the mass exodus from NYC, everyone has put up their prices, although locals tell me it’s always been this way because the assumption is that visiting New Yorkers are the ones with the dosh to throw around.
5. Hiking. Everyone’s a bloody hiker. I’m not. I walk a lot, usually miles a day, but I am not going to head off into the hills in a pair of worn leather boots, nursing a water bottle. Neither am I desperate to hear anyone’s tales of having done that. Unless I can see a Marriott by standing on a small box, I have no interest in the prospect of being trapped on a mountainside, away from civilization and having to drink my own urine until the rescue services arrive.
6. Alcohol in my local wine shop is close on double the price of what I pay in NYC, where I have 15% off at my local store, Grand Cru, and 30% off on the delivery order I make online with Union Square Wines. The latter recently did a deal in which they offered free delivery anywhere in New York State. I ordered so much to be sent to Beacon, they must have thought all their Christmases had come at once. The number of boxes in my apartment also made it look as if all my Christmases had come at once. All 61 of them.
7. Conductors on the Metro North line I take to and from Grand Central Station are so polite and friendly, I think they must be in league with the SWAG snatchers. When I show them my barcoded ticket on my iPhone, I expect them to whip it from my hand and jump from the moving train, leaping for joy at their latest stash.
8. Restaurant staff are equally polite. After just one visit to my local Italian, Brothers Trattoria, I was greeted like a long lost relative – “JACI! MY FRIEND!” – and even though neither of the brothers is Italian, I greet them with the enthusiasm of Don Corleone after a successful hitjob.
9. The Hudson Valley continues to astound me with its beauty and, with fall upon us, the changing colour of the leaves warms my heart at what is and has always been, my favourite season.
10. Where do I celebrate my birthday next month? That’s the big question. Most of my friends are in the city, but my new local, the Roosevelt Bar in Hudson Valley Food Hall is such a joy, I’m tempted to celebrate in the country. Country bumpkin or city girl? Decisions, decisions.