April 3, 2008
Roman has been accepted at Guilford College, where I went for a special lecture today on 19th century history.
While I was there I walked around and took these pictures so Roman could see what a pretty April day at Guilford really looks like:
June 26, 2007
Roman flew back to Russia a week ago, today, and arrived safely last Thursday– 18 hours in the air, and about that many in airport layovers. He arrived back in Orenburg at 3AM. He called me on Friday, and I’ve had emails from him. Yesterday I bought a phone card and called him– midnight my time, 10AM his time. He said he’d been having trouble sleeping, and wasn’t interested in eating. As far as I recall, that was the way he felt the first week he was here- and I’ve always heard that jet lag is worst going COUNTER-clockwise around the earth. He’s also feeling depressed, he says, because his friends have changed in some ways that he doesn’t like. And Russians, he says, seem rude and mean compared to Americans. So I think he’s feeling some homesickness for Franklinville.
I’ve been putting off posting some of our last activities together, at first because we were so busy getting him ready to go, and then because I’ve been adjusting to not having Roman around , myself. My house certainly does seem bigger and quieter without him, and his friends.
He didn’t have to take exams (though he took pre-Calculus anyway, so he would have the practice when he takes it at home this summer), so he spent much of the last week of school taking pictures of Eastern Randolph to share with his Russian schoolmates. He also documented my house , and my livestock , and Mother’s house.
On Thursday the 7th, Roman had to be at Graduation at 4:30, and Mother and I went at 5:00- it was very hot, and very crowded. I had already spent the morning doing the History of Randolph County class for the 33 people in the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Randolph, so I was already wiped out. Graduation was on the football field (appropriate for the state champions, I guess!). Elizabeth Mitchell, her god-daughter Nikki, and Maxine Wright came to watch.The band played, the graduates marched , and the valdictorians spoke. Roman was given a present by the senior class (a set of #24 Jeff Gordon beer glasses- something to remember NASCAR by, no doubt). It was a happy time, meeting his teachers and seeing his friends and their families. We made it to the Mexican restaurant in Asheboro in time to get served, and Charlene Edgerton, the district representative of the exchange program, met us there to give Roman his certificate of completion and his airplane tickets home. Another kind of graduation present.
That Saturday Roman went to Lake Jordan with Tyler Milliner and his brother Gary and their boat. Roman evidently learned to water ski pretty well for his first time out. They and their friends had a LOT of fun, if only gauged by their Class A sunburn- both Roman and Tyler being too macho to put on sunscreen. The next Tuesday Roman went to Carowinds with his band friend Andy Augustyne and his family, and they really loved that. Roman took loads of pictures of the rides and roller coasters to show his friends back home. the one ride he thought was scary was the “Drop Zone”– and ironically, that’s the one that was shut down this week, after a similar ride in Kentucky seriously injured a teenage girl.
Wednesday afternoon I decided on the spur of the moment (nothing important being on the work calendar), that we’d drive down to Jill’s house at Morehead City so he could have one last beach experience. I had to be back Saturday to speak at the Magna Carta luncheon at the country club, and he had to pack, so it was a long whirlwind trip- and we were back Friday night late.
There were a lot of ‘last times’ the next few days, as there eventually had to be after so many first times this past year. His last night at my house was actually Sunday night, as we spent Monday night at our friends Alex and Kay Rogozhin, so that we’d be near the Raleigh airport in time to eat breakfast and get him through security. It was hard for me to watch him go; we waited through all the bag searches and shoe searches and etc., until he turned out of sight walking to the gate. Alex and Kay got me to spend the day with them, to cushion the separation anxiety, but it was still hard to know that my year of fatherhood was at an end. It was a great experience for me; for us both, I think. My friend Greg said that both of us “won the lottery” in this exchange- I got a student as smart and flexible and open as could be asked for; he got a father who’d treat him like a son, not a tourist, and show him everything great about America.
For weeks everyone has been saying I’d be looking at feeling the “empty nest syndrome”– lost, depressed, dislocated from our old routine. And that has been true. But I guess that’s the price of investing 100% in the experience, and I certainly don’t regret that. I just hope I’ll get to Russia some day, and that he’ll come back to visit some day. For now, I just look forward toward feeling like going back into Roman’s side of my house! I haven’t even opened the door there since he left- it already feels lonely enough.
June 13, 2007
We got up early on Sunday and drove South through and around Boston to Cape Cod. There wasn’t much traffic, and it took a little more than an hour to get to the bridge over the Cape Cod canal. Then it was just 15 minutes to Hyannis, and the ferry terminal. There’s a brand new ferry, just put into service in 2006, which is for pedestrian passengers only and takes less than half the time the auto ferries do. The ferry runs about 40 miles an hour (FAST for a ship) and really churns up the wake. It costs more, but it makes twice as many trips during the day, so that’s the one we got tickets for. Roman and me and about ten youth-league lacrosse teams, going to a tournament on Nantucket. They were remarkably loud!
The sun came out and the day was pretty nice by the time we got to the island — in just 55 minutes! Like I always do on Nantucket , we just walked around , looking at the historic houses, the shops, the landscapes and the ocean. It’s obvious, though, that Nantucket has really ‘gentrified’ over the last 25 years– every house in the real estate magazine was priced at over a million dollars, and there were some very fancy boats in the harbor.
Roman developed a hankering for Italian spaghetti, which was just the wrong thing for Nantucket, one of the seafood capitals of New England. We had lunch in a beach bar, and both enjoyed whatever it was we had. We shopped, bought t-shirts and gifts for friends , got coffee, and toured the whaling museum (totally renovated with new galleries since the last time I was there). We walked out to the Brandt Point lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor, and by the time we got back to the center of town, the 5:00 ferry was leaving. We realized we were exhausted, and the thought of sitting down on the ferry sounded pretty good. So we caught it back to Hyannis.
I drove a short distance to our cheap hotel- a third the cost of a Boston hotel- and we swam in the heated pool. Later that night we went to an English pub in Hyannis, where we had “pasties”- pastries like calzones, filled with cheese and stuff. I had the “New England Tradition” pasties– turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, peas and cranberry sauce, wrapped up in a pie crust. Something unusual, and good.
The next morning, Monday, we slept late for once, and got on the road at 10AM. My plan was to return the car to the airport and then take the subway downtown so as to avoid the parking problems. With some backtracking (I missed the airport exit and had to navigate the narrow streets of the North End to get turned around), we turned the car in about noon, took the bus to the terminal, and were all set for our 6:15PM flight. So with 5 hours to wait, we took the new Silver Line bus trolley across to Boston. It uses a restricted lane on the Interstate to go to the new Convention Center on the old South Boston waterfront (30 years ago, that was all warehouses and fish wholesalers); then it has its own underground tunnel which links to the subway system at South Station.
When we got out of the subway, Roman was surprised- this was the Financial District , the super new part of Boston, and looked very different from the half of town we walked through Saturday. He was amazed at the variety of the skyscrapers, and how everything was oriented toward the piers and waterfront. We walked around what will soon be the Rose Kennedy greenway, on top of the now-underground “Big Dig” expressway, and got to Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market. The Market has every kind of trinket and food for sale you can imagine, and that’s where Roman finally found his Italian pasta.
We bought more gifts, walked up to the Blue Line stop at the Old State House, and took the subway back to the airport. (The odd photo of an octacycle… 8 people pedaling the hills downtown. It looked like work!) We still had a little wait for our flight, but after a quick change of planes at LaGuardia in New York, we got back to Raleigh about 10PM. Roman was hungry enough to eat week-old doughnuts… and did!
June 12, 2007
Saturday morning was not quite as sloppy as Friday night, but it was still drizzling enough to make the Sox vs. Braves baseball game problematic. It was set for a 1:30 start, which would allow them to schedule a doubleheader for the evening, and catch up on the Friday game that was postponed. We left North Andover and drove to Cambridge, where I (from memory- impressed myself!) found and parked at the Alewife T station (the end of the red line subway, where there’s a ginormous parking garage). We took the red line all the way into downtown Boston, getting out at Park Street– the north side of the Common. We walked around the common, so Roman could get a taste of Boston, and then got lunch before taking the green line trolley south to Commonwealth Ave.- the BU stop- which is about 3 blocks from Fenway Park.
We walked in the rain to Fenway, which was packed with people even a hour before the game. We shopped the official paraphenalia stores (the UNofficial stores are actually more expensive!) and finally went on to our seats, because they were under the upper deck and therefore, dry. We watched them ready the field, rolling back the tarp as the rain let up. At game time, it was dry, though gray and cool, but by the end of the game the sun actually peeked out for a minute or two.
By luck (Saturday afternoon being the spot in my schedule for the game, no matter who was pitching), we saw the Red Sox’s new phenom pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. the Braves (and virtually their entire pitching staff, since the Sox got so many hits the blew out more than half a dozen Braves pitchers). “Dice-K” (as his name is actually pronounced) is just as good as the PR says. The Red Sox won, 13-3. It was a great game to watch, and fun to be there in person. It was all new and amazing to Roman.
After the game, we actually walked all the way through the Back Bay and across the Common to Beacon Hill, and caught the red line at the Charles River stop. Roman was interested in that part of Boston looking so European. (I didn’t realize until Monday that he thought ALL of Boston looked like that.) It was a good hike and by the time we caught the subway train into Harvard Square, we were glad to sit down.
But once at Harvard Square, we started walking again, so I could show him the Yard, where I lived as a Freshman, Widener Library, the Lampoon, Mather House, the central spaces of my college career. I was surprised at all the infill construction… nothing left of the few vacant lots or parking lots I remember from the old days. We ate dinner at the John Harvard Ale House, something Italian and filling, as I recall, with a good dark ale. Beside us was an attractive blonde woman from Finland who had been at Harvard as a Fulbright Scholar, and was visiting on business.
It was late when we took the subway back to the car, and raining again as I found I-93 in the dark and made it back to North Andover. The Sox and Braves did play the night game, and John Smoltz turned the tables for Atlanta in the rain- Boston lost that one, 14 to 4.
June 12, 2007
The flight up was quick! We got into Logan at 11:15 and got the rental car on the road by 11:45. On the drive to Lowell (about 45 min.) Roman was starving so we stopped at a Cracker Barrell- and now it’s Roman’s new favorite place to eat. I met with people at the museum and then we checked into the hotel. That night we saw Shrek 3… the next day my meeting was until 2, so Roman wandered around Lowell . Then we drove around some in the rain and went to North Andover, where Diane Fagan-Affleck let us use their beautiful house while they were in New York. Friday night we drove in the downpour to see Spiderman 3 at the IMAX, but it’s an IMAX at Jordan’s Furniture- the biggest furniture store in New England. It’s at a mall, but free-standing beside the Home Depot- a big 3-story box where, besides the furniture store and the IMAX, is a trapeze training school (!), a Fuddrucker’s , an ice cream place , and the “Fireworks Fountain”. It’s crazy what all they have in a furniture store– and there’s another one like it on the South side of Boston! The movie was fun to see in IMAX, but the whole Jordan’s furniture experience was weird and crazy. That could have been the highlight of a trip all by itself.
Saturday– the Red Sox in the rain!
May 13, 2007
[Don’t give up!– The photos are near the bottom!]
My year with Roman seems too quickly to be winding down. A month and four days from today Roman will leave Franklinville and fly home to Russia. But one of the biggest milestones of the Eastern Randolph school year is tonight- the Junior-Senior Prom.
I wasn’t even sure he wanted to go, or was even thinking about it, until about 6 weeks ago when he told me he’d asked Erin Trogdon, the youngest daughter of Dianna Trogdon who runs Quotables next door to my office. Erin might have been the first girl Roman met in Randolph County last August, when we first ate lunch in the restaurant. He has gone with her several times to her church’s Wednesday night youth fellowship meetings, but they haven’t ever dated or anything- she has always had boyfriends. In fact, she had one when he asked her- but he goes to school in Guilford County. She’s a sophomore, so this will be her first prom, too.
It sounded like their mutual friends put them together, and coached Roman on asking her. He was clueless about the protocol of asking a girl to the prom, and it evidently took several of her cheerleading squad friends and several of his soccer team friends to clear the path and set it all up. Roman said just didn’t understand why he couldn’t invite her by cell phone or text message- but the other kids were firm, it had to be face-to-face! He finally made the reservations with the school, got tickets, and paid for them himself. I never knew anything until it was all over- not that I could have offered much in the way of coaching.
Once the trauma of the invitation was over, Roman quickly went into denial. I tried to explain about the tuxedo, the flowers, the dress, the dinner, and even the limo– all vital parts of the experience which many young women have come to expect. But no– dances in Russia are not so formal, he said; a young man can attend with several women, and dance with them all equally, without attachment. That’s how it should be here.
Except it isn’t, I said. As the weeks passed, other county schools began to have their prom (Southwest Randolph a couple of weeks ago; Asheboro last week), and the buzz grew stronger at Eastern. In fact, according to him, it was all anyone talked about last week.
Behind the scenes Dianna and I plotted out dinner reservations and flowers and etc., since Roman didn’t want to talk about that. Even before the trip to Washington we went to Big Deal with Tyler Milliner and ordered Roman’s tuxedo. This past Thursday afternoon after school we went back and picked it up, and before Roman went to the band awards dinner at Pinewood that night, he tried it on- a perfect fit.
Today he got up early- 10 AM, early for Roman- so I knew that something had come between him and 12 hours sleep. I called Dianna and got the instructions on where to rendezvous- a house just a few blocks away in Franklinville, the grandmother of Brittany, another cheerleader, whose escort DJ was driving the group to dinner and the prom- held at the furniture market ‘Showplace’ in High Point.
We were to meet at 4PM, but at 3:00 it started to rain buckets. The weather radar said it would continue to rain buckets, maybe all night, but for the moment it was still clear in High Point. So he started to dress, and I helped with the hard stuff like suspenders and tie. When he was done, I didn’t like the black on black on black look, so I found a special tie pin- a Russian flag pin Alex gave me when we first met, which of course was a totally appropriate flourish. As a final point, for the boy who has never carried a wallet and hardly ever has his ID or his debit card, I let him use a Fossil billfold that Alex also gave me. So at least he’s set for the night- especially since an anonymous female admirer the other week gave him $100 to be sure he had money to pay for dinner (another thing he was in resistance to- Russians go dutch, evidently!
In the event, the rendezvous was delayed half an hour, as the crush of girls having their makeup done in the mall was throwing them very late. We were sitting rather uncomfortably on grandma’s couch when they finally came, makeup and hair professionally done, and hurried to the bedrooms to dress.
But at last the event was recorded for posterity, and the rain ended so we could see them to the car. Then they were off, with last minute permission to stay out until 2AM, so they can have breakfast as well as dinner. Dianna told them to call and tell us what their plans were, but I already knew Roman would- he is particularly good at calling or texting me so I always know where he is.
No big night out for me- I decided to stay home, read, write, watch “Good Night and Good Luck” on DVD, and think about how my temporary turn at fatherhood is coming to an end. Today is a good example of how it has caused me to look again at my own teenage years. I know somewhere mother still has those prom pictures of me: junior year, when I went with Jo Carol Wrape, and wore that wine red crushed velvet tuxedo; and senior year, when I went with Vickie Richardson, and sported the electric blue crushed velvet tuxedo. Basic black just wasn’t the thing back then, but the seventies color scheme hasn’t aged well.
Roman has asked several times why this is such a big deal in America. He knows it’s not just here in North Carolina- tonight is also his special friend Kristina’s prom in Indiana, and his same-named buddy Roman’s prom in Pennsylvania. Perhaps not by coincidence is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on HBO tonight- the TriWizard’s Tournament Yule Ball, with all the kids in “dress robes” and formal gowns… Formal dances are some kind of rite of passage in western society- I don’t know whether it goes back to the Cinderella story, but we still have debutantes “coming out” into society at their balls, and that in a sense is what the Junior/Senior Prom represents- a teenager’s social coming-of-age.
There have been so many ‘firsts’ for me this year with Roman; now it seems like every first is also a last. I guess that’s way of parenthood- responsibility end for the adults, as it begins for their children.
April 20, 2007
Saturday was our first day that promised relatively good weather; the only question was, whether to wear coats. We took them, and then ended up carrying them for a good part of the afternoon, after the sun came out and warmed everything up. It was literally the lull before the storm on Sunday– 24 hours later the nor’easter would be flooding New York.
Again we took the train into Penn Station and walked directly to the Empire State Building to check the line– already around the block. So, plan B: the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan. We stopped at a Starbucks for coffee (there is a Starbucks on every block- sometimes more than one) and Roman ducked into a Walgreens to buy one of the good international phone cards we can no longer find at home. We walked down 5th Avenue to Madison Square, going through Korea Town on the way (we never did get to Chinatown or Greenwich Village, alas, but I took a good look at the new Robert A.M. Stern apartment building near the ESB ) and caught the Lexington Ave. subway down to the City Hall station. The approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge begin right at City Hall park , where we walked out on the pedestrian boardwalk. For some reason, Roman’s fear of heights was worse on the bridge than it would be later at the ESB, but once we got to the first stone pier, he was more interested in the view than the distance down to the water. The towers of lower Manhattan are pretty impressive from the bridge , as is the view out towards the Verrazano Narrows bridge and up the East River. We walked all the way to Brooklyn and back, then swung around Nassau and Fulton toward South Street Seaport. The Strand Bookstore Annex was on the way, so we checked it out. “18 Miles of Bookshelves” is their motto, and even the Annex (the HQ store is in Greenwich Village) is an impressive book store. By the time Roman pulled me out the door, it was lunch time. We found a local eatery off the beaten path to the seaport and I had a turkey pannini (really good bread) and Roman had his first Reuben (corned beef and Russian dressing. We’re not sure what made it Russian…)
The guidebooks I’d been reading don’t think much of the South Street Seaport- – too commercial, too fake… but the tourists evidently don’t read those guidebooks, because the place was absolutely packed. There were stores and restaurants, ferries and ‘water taxis’, bands playing, jugglers, mimes– something going on everywhere, and busloads of people. It’s a surprisingly short walk from the docks to the tip of Manhattan: past the end of Wall Street, past the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, to Battery Park. Where we found more people, hanging out, playing frisbie, and lots of artists selling crafts and art. In the center of the park is the golden globe that used to stand in the plaza of the World Trade Center. The pieces were pulled out of the rubble after the buildings fell on it; they put it back together and made it the centerpiece of the temporary 9/11 memorial at the Battery.
Walking from there up Broadway to Hanover Square is the bronze Bull sculpture in the center of the financial district. Roman and I watched amazed for several minutes as several groups of high school or college students used the Bull for photo ops; the surprise was how many of the girls wanted pictures of themselves rubbing, kissing, or somehow fondling the bull’s balls. That’s a scrapbook picture for the 21st century girl, I guess. The centerpiece of their Facebook or MySpace page, maybe? Wow.
We turned down Wall Street (blocked not by concrete Jersey barriers but by big bronze blocks– the sculptural equivalent of Jersey barriers, maybe). Federal Hall is on one side, where George Washington took his first presidential oath of office; on the other side is the New York Stock Exchange. Only tourists there on a Saturday, of course. We looped around on Pearl Street and Stone Street, one of the oldest parts of Manhattan, part of what was originally settled by the Dutch, in fact. That’s where Fraunces Tavern is , a revolutionary war site, and other early buildings (part of the few that haven’t been torn down for skyscraper offices). The loop took us back to Broadway, past the bull and his admirers again, and on up past Trinity Church (where Alexander Hamilton is buried) to the edge of Ground Zero.
When we were there in December 2001, it was all still a huge mess. David Griffin from Greensboro was running the clean-up, and took Lori and I to the edge of the Red Zone to look into the pit, still smoking and stinking. Now it’s just another construction site. On the fringes there is the old Police Memorial, now with 9/11 names, and a new Firemen Memorial. The temporary PATH station (another set of New Jersey trains) is in operation at the very bottom; the new Freedom Tower is erecting steel in the northwest corner, and an elevated steel walkway rings the 4-acre block, connecting into the World Financial Center so that tours can walk completely around the site and end in the Winter Garden, where there’s a food court and high end shops. An exhibit there shows the model and plan for the future 9/11 memorial and skyscraper city… but the sense of tragedy only lingers on the south side, where the old Deutsche Bank building is finally being demolished, now that they’ve given up on fixing the 9/11 damage,
We caught the subway at the old WTC stop to get back to the Empire State Building– neither of us was capable of walking that far at that point. Good news– when we arrived, there was no outside line at all, for the first time. Unfortunately, we discovered that there was an hour’s worth of line inside on the second floor. A line to go through security, a line to buy tickets (at least I had the internet tickets), then a line to wait for the elevator to the 80th floor; then a line to wait for the elevator to the observation deck on the 86th floor. All in all, we waited about an hour and a half to get there; was it worth the wait? Roman said yes; especially since we waited in line so long that the sun was going down as we stepped out on the deck . We stayed out there for about 45 minutes, watching the city lights come on, and night settle. I liked the insight into the building itself- the zeppelin mooring mast, especially. When the colored lights came on, it was time to go. We grabbed some pizza in Penn Station (Roman had to have some New York pizza by the slice- and it was good. Maybe anything would have been good at the end of that day). The trip back to Linden didn’t seem to take long, and the bus back to the hotel was waiting for us. Elizabeth and Max picked us up Sunday morning, and we slogged back home through the monsoon.
I’m pretty sure a good time was had by all.
April 19, 2007
Since the hotel was a Hampton Inn, we got breakfast Friday morning before we set out. This was not as new and nice as the Williamsburg HI, but it was good. Roman has decided that any accommodations with “Inn” in the name is a guarantee of comfort and quality. He thinks that “hotel” is something like the one where we stayed at the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce retreat—ten or 15 stories tall, and more formal. I said it’s not quite so cut-and-dried, but that in general, he’s probably correct.
The weather outside looked grey and rain-swept, but the weather channel was calling for the rain to stop and the chance of sun. Later the rain did stop, but the cold wind never let up- that was the worst problem in New York. I’ve been coughing and having hoarseness issues since the snow in DC—but I tried without much success to nip it this week, so it’s probably less of a cold and more of an allergic reaction to the seasonal pollen. The more it rained and the farther north we went, the better I felt for a while, so that’s probably it.
Elizabeth used to commute into the city from New Jersey and Connecticut, so she set the example on the train this morning. We bought tickets at a machine in Linden, but it turned out to be easy to buy tickets the old fashioned way- from the conductor on the train. And the whole commute turned out to be painless. Linden is just two stops from the Newark Airport, which is just 4 stops from Penn Station. It took only about half an hour to get into the city. All three of these trips, hard as it has been to get from home to the destination, have reminded me in the best possible ways of the value of public transportation. The buses in Williamsburg, the Metro in DC, the trains and subways in New York all functioned perfectly to transport large numbers of people into and out of core areas which aren’t much bigger than Asheboro/ Franklinville. Commuting was not only more convenient than driving, it was generally the most stress-free part of each trip.
Walking was the down side, only because I see how little I’ve practiced it the last few years. But for people living in the city, walking is the healthy aspect of urban life. Roman commented that there were very few fat people in Washington or New York, except for obvious tourists. He was right- we see more big people at dinner in a steak house than we saw in a whole day in NYC. Walking must keep people exercised. And we started hoofing it right off the train in Penn Station, getting up to the corner of 33rd and 7th Ave. and finding ourselves in the middle of school bus loads of kids arriving to see the circus in Madison Square Garden. We walked east to start at the Empire State Building, but the line was already around the building- we’ll check back later. So, north on Broadway to Times Square. We used the walk to get Roman used to the surroundings: the traffic, the noise, the crowds, not to mention the tall buildings. We continued walking all the way north to Central Park (taking a look at Carnegie Hall on the way). Roman wanted immediately to see the Plaza Hotel, since Home Alone II was his entire inspiration as “a child” (what- last year?) to visit America. We held that off, though– inspecting the buggy rides, buying pretzels and hot dogs from a vendor in the park at the carosel, enjoying the sun peaking through the clouds. We walked up Poet’s Walk toward Bethesda Fountain, bought peanuts, and discovered that someone had rented the Fountain Plaza for what appeared to be a wedding reception. A First Class, High Quality wedding reception. A guess enough money can rent anything in Central Park!
We trended toward the Loeb Boathouse (where Greg and Lori and Eric and I had lunch when we were in the city after 9/11), and ran into our first Mime. I explained to Roman the concept of Miming for Money; we probably saw a dozen more before the trip was over. Leaving the Park at Fifth Avenue, just north of the Frick Museum (I haven’t been there since college- and they’ve recently renovated- but this isn’t really a museum trip), Roman noticed that there were more cabs than cars in New York. Yep, we’re not in North Carolina anymore. From there we walked south to the Plaza, so Roman could take Home Alone pictures (the hotel is being renovated— they’ll keep some rooms as a hotel, but more than half the floors are being turned into high-dollar condos—the Penthouse was sold to a Russian Oligarch (says the Times) for $52 million!
Walking down Fifth Avenue, we had to make a ladies’ pit stop, so what better place than Bergdorff-Goodman? The toilets are in the basement, behind the perfume counter- VERY expensive perfume, too. Elizabeth stopped to talk to the girls walking around in the expensive designer clothes—living mannequins. Elizabeth says she used to have the same job in a department store in Scotland. (I think haute couture dresses must look considerably different on the average rich lady than they do on the skinny 20-somethings who model them).
Walking on: we finally see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so I know Rockefeller Center is not far away. We veer east at 50th and find 30 Rock and the ice skating rink, with one hefty woman in purple swooping around center ice, bowing to the crowd and applauding herself like she is Peggy Fleming or Michele Kwan. We see the Today studio (all quiet at 1PM) and the street where the onlookers gather each morning. Across the street from there we choose the Channel 4 Irish Bar for lunch (Channel 4 being the local NBC affiliate). The food was good there- Roman decided he liked Shepherd’s Pie, since it’s covered with mashed potatoes. I had Chicken Pie, and Elizabeth had salmon with wasabi mayo- yum! They make their own ice cream there, too.
The east to Park Avenue and down to Grand Central Station for coffee. GCS has been beautifully renovated- the stars in the ceiling really shine, and the food court downstairs is extremely impressive. The line for the women’s WC, though, was ridiculous. Leaving there, walking east on 42nd Street past the Chrysler Building, all the way to the United Nations. A line and lots of security to get inside (sad- Jac and I went there 40 years ago- was it with a church tour? – and there was no security to speak of. That’s where we bought Dad a carved European chess set.) We spent some time looking for the Russian flag, and finally found it so Roman could have a photo op. Then we walked west on 42 to the Public Library, so I could show Roman the reading room- newly renovated and beautiful, but so strange without card catalogs- only computers now.
Then down Fifth Avenue to the ESB, only to find the line even worse than before. A passing lady showed us why—33rd Street was closed, and the tours were temporarily stopped, because someone had jumped out of the building, committing suicide! The spots they were cleaning up with chemicals on the street didn’t look big enough for a whole body- and the next day, I read why on the internet. The jumper was a 30-something lawyer, who jumped out of his office on the 69th floor. He mostly landed on a setback on the 30th floor, but a leg and miscellaneous pieces fell all the way to the street.
Elizabeth and Max needed to get on the road for Connecticut, so we hiked back to Penn Station and made the 6:30 train back to Linden. They got on the road, Roman got on my laptop to write his blog, and I took shower! Later we had dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant, and I showed him what Sangria is. Then to bed, exhausted, as is becoming our custom.
April 19, 2007
Our longest trip had to fit into the last five days of Roman’s spring break.
Elizabeth Mitchell and Maxine Wright were driving to Connecticut to see friends, so we tagged along to New Jersey with them. We met them just after midnight Wednesday (so, actually, early Thursday morning), and started the long drive. (I was willing to drive, anyway, but as it turned out, they did all the driving. Nice! I’d already done my share, back and forth to Williamsburg and Washington, so I was ready to just enjoy the trip for a change. Between the rain (buckets, bringing speed down to 50 at times) and a tractor-trailer wreck on 95 between Baltimore and Delaware, which had us parked on the highway for an hour between 7 and 8 AM, we finally got to the Hampton Inn in Linden, NJ, about 12:15 (it was nice, just 4 years old).
Once we unloaded our stuff we headed directly to Liberty State Park, just one exit away on the NJ Turnpike. That a little hard to find, but turned out to be a renovated railroad yard where the ferries from New York used to dock and unload people to catch the trains west (before there were tunnels under the Hudson, and before Pennsylvania Station). We caught a ferry there that went to Ellis Island, not far off the Jersey shore; after a short stop there we went on to the Statue of Liberty, where my internet tour reservation was for 12:45-3:30. It was a great thrill for Roman to see New York from the water, even though the rain and the fog was cutting visibility down to the point where we could barely see the Empire State Building– at times it looked like the top half had just been erased by clouds.
With the temperature in the 30s, and the wind blowing hard, and snow flurries blowing up occasionally, I’m sure the tourism was down. But the security lines at the Statue of Liberty were still long. In fact, it turned out to have the strictest security of the entire city—“Take off your belts!” “Remove your shoes!” “Put all cell phones, cameras, wallets and change in the tray!” “Step into the booth!” Everything was x-rayed, scanned, sniffed for explosives, and eyeballed. But we finally all made it into the base of the statue, listened to the guide, looked through the exhibits, and started the climb up the stairs.
Before 9/11 it was still possible to climb all the way into the crown, but the statue itself is closed now. The best anyone can do is to take the 14 or 15 flights of steps up to the top of the base, and look through glass into th e structural framework of the statue.
Then we could go outside on the observation deck at the foot of the statue, where we had a much better view of the city since the wind had picked up enough to blow much of the fog away. (Here’s where Roman first tested his fear of heights!)
It was too late for a tour of Ellis Island, so before we left we grabbed a snack in the SOL cafeteria. The trip back to New Jersey on the ferry got VERY cold, so we were glad to go back to the hotel for some rest. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant Elizabeth knew in nearby Rahway—Linden, Rahway and Elizabeth, New Jersey are all grouped just south of the Newark airport, connected by the railroad into the city. That’s where we planned to head Friday morning.
April 11, 2007
At least the day was sunny, and it had arguably warmed up a few degrees, but the wind hadn’t died down, and that continued to challenge us on our hike. It wasn’t far to the White House visitor’s center, but when we got there we discovered they’d just closed at 4:00. So we moved on to try to enter the White House grounds at the Treasury building side. But everything there is now closed off with concrete Jersey barriers, and as we walked around Alexander Hamilton and the Treasury block to Andrew Jackson and Lafayette Park we found that Pennsylvania Avenue is closed in front of the White House from the Treasury to the Old Executive Office Building. It’s now a rather wide pedestrian mall, which I guess is handy for those occasional protest marches, but looked rather stark even with 40 or 50 people standing in front of the mansion, taking pictures. We did the obligatory shots of Roman at the gate, etc., and explained to Roman that this Portico side was the real “front” of the White House- he thought the south balcony side was the “front”. The President was at Camp David, to return Monday for the Easter Egg Hunt. We continued walking around the White House grounds, around the OEB and the Winder Building across the street, which was Lincoln’s War Office, and down to the Corcoran Gallery corner, which was the first open entrance to the Ellipse. There we could walk across to look at the South Front of the White House, and the yard all decorated with tables and tents and stuff for the Easter Egg hunt. There were some people with young kids wandering around the South Lawn… I wondered how much money one had to donate or how good a Republican one had to be to get invited to the Easter Egg Hunt?
Walking to the Washington Monument (or “that tall thing,” Roman kept saying- he’d never seen a picture of the obelisk), we passed a lot of empty tents, part of the Cherry Blossom Festival, it seemed, not having much business in the cold. The WM was doing a big business– big lines, so we didn’t try to get in. We walked around the circle to the new World War II memorial, which is directly in line between the WM and the Lincoln Memorial, at the opposite end of the reflecting pool from the LM. It’s pretty nice, built in the traditional DC Roman Empire style, it could date to the 1890s, and matches up to the distant LM pretty well.
It has nothing like the symbolic power of the Vietnam Memorial, where we walked next, nor the weirdness of the Korean Memorial on the far side of the pool. All of the inscribed names on the black granite generate a lot of emotional power as the walkway descends and the panes get bigger and bigger and rise up above your head. (I looked up cousin Ronnie Trogdon’s name in the phone directory-size index books they keep there, and his name is on panel 22 East, line 108). The most touching thing we saw were plastic folders with photos and newspaper clippings of all the soldiers who died on April 7th- that day, whichever year, where-ever in Vietnam. Each one of them ended with a phrase like, “Forever 20 years old.” Roman was surprised at how young they all were, and how there were more names of people who died in Vietnam (58,000) than Russians who died in Afghanistan (about 14,000).
The Lincoln Memorial is right across the street, once open to traffic but now closed with more Jersey barriers. It was getting colder and you see that Roman sometimes now forgets to take his wool hat off for the picture. (It wasn’t cool to wear the hat, but it was warm.) The usual crowd was climbing those steps and taking photos– the first set of monumental steps which were actually open to people I’d seen all day. At least there is no security check and no x-ray machine to get in to see Abe, who is as calm and grandfatherly as always. I was describing to Roman the “I Have A Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, and how it took place right on those steps (right where the platform for some local fundamentalist church’s Easter Sunrise Service was being erected). Luckily there was a movie of it playing in the basement of the memorial, and we saw part of that.
We saw the Korean War memorial on the way to FDR. It’s a lot more impressive at night: there are pinhole spotlights that shine only on the faces of the soldier sculptures; and the laser holographs etched on the granite wall behind them jump out in a weird blue light. It’s eerie.
The Franklin Roosevelt Memorial is close on the map but pretty far away in reality; across two busy streets and a football field, with no evidence path or sidewalk to show the way. We just hiked across country, and found it right at the entrance to the Tidal Basin park, with more empty tents that would have catered to Blossom Festival people. I’d never seen the FDR memorial; have read about it, and knew it was a rocky landscape with fountain/ waterfall features. It turns out to be beautiful, dark rough stone with inscriptions and occasional bronze plaques or statues. It fits in well with the pedestrian paths of the Tidal Basin. We were there with what seemed to be a bus load of younger teenagers, though, and they needed supervision in a major way. But at least rock and bronze is pretty-much kid-proof.
More walking around the Tidal Basin and we finally got to the Jefferson Memorial. I’ve driven past it many times, but this was the first time I’ve been inside. On the way we met another bus of Russian tourists, and I finally talked to one couple (Roman didn’t want to talk to any old Russians). They were a retired couple of teachers from the Ukraine, who came to the US 18 years ago and live in New York. They’d never know there were student exchange programs with Russia, so they were impressed. “Who would have ever thought that would happen?” he said. The Jeff Memorial was evidently the Headquarters of the Cherry Blossom People, who were generally having a bad day. The last weekend of the festival is this weekend, so I hope they have better weather. (Right now, it’s looking grey and cold and rainy…)
TJ was the end of our tour, but not the end of our hike, as we had to get back to the subway. The nearest Metro stop was Smithsonian, behind the Castle, so we walked north past the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Holocaust Memorial, turned east past the Department of Agriculture, and eventually found the escalator. We got back to Kieran’s apartment about 7:00, and were thankful to be home. Roman set right to work on HIS blog (I’d link to it, but it’s in Russian), and Greg and I went out to shop for Sunday breakfast. Roman didn’t want to eat out, so Greg and I had Chinese at the nearby Yenching, which turns out to be the place where Kennedy aides met with Soviet embassy people during the Cuban Missile Crisis and where Henry Kissinger arranged Nixon’s trip to China. So we even ended at a historic spot.
We thought about going back to the Archives Sunday morning, or to the art museums, but we were tired out. So we slept late, and came on home early.
Tomorrow Roman and I head off to New York City with Elizabeth Mitchell and Maxine Wright, who are going on to visit friends in Connecticut. I wouldn’t have booked all this travel into 3 consecutive weekends, except that’s pretty much the time made available by the county school year. I guess most parents don’t take kids on many trips like this, but I’d think it was more educational than a lot of what goes on in high school. This year with Roman has at least shown me first hand what school age parents go through. It’s not easy!