So, before I upset people from rural areas who might assume I am calling them unsophisticated and stupid, I am not. I have met dozens of unsophisticated and stupid people in the many cities in which I’ve lived or visited the world over; I grew up in the countryside (actually, bad example: the headmaster at my junior school told me that unless you were wearing glasses by the age of seven, you were destined to be one of life’s failures. I started wearing them at 50, you four-eyed twat).
Interestingly, ‘bumpkin’ was originally the name that the English had for the Dutch, whom they portrayed as small, comic and tubby. Now, that sounds far more accurate, at least in my case. Despite my having lost 10lbs in weight during lockdown, I still have quite a round middle, I am still only five feet tall, and I am still hilarious (although I suspect the phrase means being laughed at, rather than with. That’s ok, poke fun at me at your peril; my pen really is mightier than your sword will ever be, you lily-livered lummox – if you just had to Google lummox, you really need to get thee to a sword-sharpener, pronto).
Under normal circumstances, I’m not very good being surrounded by greenery; even the lettuce section in a supermarket has me running for cover behind the mushrooms. I love the Seine and the Hudson that are the heart of Paris and New York City, respectively, and have now lived for equal amounts of time in both (seven years – and still counting, in the case of NYC). I crave late nights, meeting people from out of town (bumpkins), and having the widest choice in food, drink and ambience. In essence, I like to live life in a Lights, Camera, Action kind of way (I have to be the star, by the way; back of the queue, bumpkins).
Coronavirus and subsequent lockdown changed all that. Initially the epicenter (US spelling with that word now – live with it) of the virus, the state of New York was brought under control by stringent measures that, although tough, were largely adhered to and pushed the state, in particular the City, right down to the bottom of the infection and death rate chart.
But the civil unrest that came following the death of George Floyd has made the City feel less safe; also, hotels being utilised to house the homeless brought a whole new set of problems. I have utmost sympathy with the dispossessed and disenfranchised in any society, but these hotels have become, in some part, safe havens for people who, at night, go out to hound diners forced to eat outdoors, or anyone just out for an evening stroll. Times Square is a hideous theatre of hypodermic syringes. I’ve been harassed for money and have been verbally attacked for being white (never small, comic and tubby, funnily enough).
So, I started to look for an escape in upstate NY – a place I did not know well, having visited the smallish city of Beacon just three times. I returned to take another look in July. Indoor dining had already resumed (NYC doesn’t get it until Wednesday this week, and even then, at only 25% capacity), people largely obeyed the compulsory wearing of masks, and life had returned to some semblance of normality.
I decided to split my time between NYC and Beacon. I’ve spent the past 25 years living in at least two places at the same time and while I know it’s an extravagance, I prefer to spend my money on that rather than on clothes, shoes, et al. I am not good staying in hotels, where loneliness consumes me, and the number of people who die in hotel rooms, either by their own hand or by accident is never a surprise to me.
I need my nest . . . well, nests . . . and so installed myself in Beacon, in two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment (much cheaper than my place in NYC and $1700pm cheaper – though not so cheap when you decide you need both). I have a balcony with a view of the Hudson, the same as I have in Manhattan, and am slowly adjusting to the pace of country life.
My life has changed in oh, so many ways, and this is going to take a follow-up blog to be able to tell you how. But let’s start here, with just a few thoughts about my new country life.
1. There are no single, successful, heterosexual men looking for a Dutch-like small, comic and tubby woman of a certain age, just as there were none in NYC, Paris, Wales, London, Marbella, Los Angeles. I am fast running out of continents and have now, officially, given up.
2. Why would I go apple picking? There is a thing called a supermarket, where they wrap fruit in bags for you, thereby allowing you more time to spend at the bar not picking apples. And I hate apples. Well, maybe hate is too strong, but they seem to take a lot of effort: peeling, getting the maggots out, de-coring them. It’s why I never got into drugs. How can anyone be arsed to go through the palaver of rolling, sucking, injecting, or whatever they do? A ring-pull on a can of Stella is as much work as I ever want to put in of an evening.
3. I am even more of an All You Can Eat Buffet for insects in the country than I am in the City. In NYC, mosquitoes munch on my ankles; in the country, the mosquitoes can’t get near because of the fleas that seem to have a lease on everything if it stands still long enough.
4. Everything in the country is stupidly expensive, with upstate NY taking advantage of the mass exodus from the City and charging people stupid money: the cheapest hotel in Hudson last weekend came in at $484.80 – for one night. Dinner was between $200-$300 for two, with just a couple of glasses of wine, not even a bottle.
5. Enjoyed train journey back to the City.
More thoughts to follow in Part II. Right now, too busy peeling apples.