Country Mouse in the Big City


My city hostess Bobbie and I are both hams.

City folk—particularly New York City folk—may want to avert their eyes from this little essay.

I’m writing about how much I ADORE the city. I know those who live there may sometimes take their environment for granted. I don’t, however.

Last week I spent a few days in New York at a cookbook conference. I’ll write more about the conference itself once I finish going through the copious notes I took. When that time comes I promise not to subject readers to a blow-by-blow (bite-by-bite?) description.

For now, I thought I’d just share my excitement about New York.

When I was small going to New York was a big deal. I’m old enough (shudder!) to recall putting on a hat and white gloves to go into the city as a little girl. In my mind’s eye I can still see my reflection in a department store window—shiny patent-leather shoes, pink dress and matching coat, white gloves, white bonnet, big smile.

Times have changed. This time around I arrived in jeans, although I did wear a little makeup. Despite my casual wardrobe I was again smiling as I stepped off the bus at 33rd Street. Going to New York is still a big deal, even without the gloves and hat.

Within my first five minutes in the city I saw more people on the street than live in my hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts.

My friend Peter and I sped through traffic in taxis—first to my friend Bobbie’s house to drop off my luggage, then to Peter’s high-rise apartment, where his dogs Lucca and Marco greeted me and led me to the window to admire the view.

Over the next few days, in between conference sessions, I spent time with old friends. Peter and his partner Ken took me out to a cozy yet elegant Indian dinner.

I shared onion soup and show-business gossip with Jani, my former colleague at the Paley Center for Media, who spent much of our time together looking up potential publishers and agents for me. (Jani is the Paley Center’s head of research and never stops thinking about how to use her knowledge to help friends and colleagues.)

And I received love, food, and a little too much motherly advice from my hostess, Bobbie.

My college roommate Amy used to say that Bobbie and her late husband Buddy were the best excuse for New York City that she could think of. This was at a time when New York’s image was slightly tarnished in the public eye. Buddy and Bobbie imbued the city with humor and restored its glamour.

They dressed well, talked loudly, laughed and sang infectiously, and were intensely interested in the people around them. It would have been hard to find people more colorful or charming.

If New York still needed an excuse today, Bobbie would provide it even without Buddy, who has been dead for 20 years. She is a passionate city dweller, going to theatrical or musical events just about every day (sometimes twice a day) and expressing her opinion of every one with gusto.

Staying with her was both fun and maddening since Bobbie likes to express her opinions about people as well as performances. My coat was too light. My shoes were unsuitable for snow (of which we had but a few flurries). I drank unhealthy beverages. (Diet soda is my only real vice.) My luggage was disorganized.

When I told her that I was trying to revive my career and make more money this year she said flatly, “You don’t have a career, and you’re too old to start one.” Ouch.

Somehow—probably because I wasn’t staying with her permanently—I managed to ignore her criticisms and even find them slightly endearing. They came from love, after all, and were intended to be constructive. And I enjoyed catching up on her family’s news, talking about the theater, and hearing her sing Stephen Sondheim tunes as I was dressing in the mornings.

To and from my destinations in the city I generally walked or rode the bus. I know the subway is faster, but when one is only in New York for a little while one likes to see everything.

During one late-night bus ride I marveled at the diversity of the city. My fellow passengers were a very large man in a wheelchair, singing off key at the top of his lungs; a woman in a red coat talking in Chinese on her cell phone; and a fur-clad woman discussing job prospects (in English) on another cell phone.

I was the only one looking out the window at the people, dogs, and lighted buildings we passed. I was tickled at my own silence.

And I loved the fact that at any hour of the day or night people are bustling about in the city.

I remember only one exception to this activity. I was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2011, commuting back and forth from my mother’s house in New Jersey.

No one was allowed to enter or leave Manhattan on the night of the 11th so I stayed with my brother and his wife in their apartment.

The next day my office was closed. I learned that a few trains were running from Penn Station to New Jersey so I hoofed it down Seventh Avenue to catch one.

As I walked down the long street I heard absolute silence. I saw no one else walking. No buses or taxis passed me.

I got to Times Square—Times Square, which is filled with people even in the middle of the night!—and saw nothing but bare pavement and a few pieces of paper fluttering in the breeze. Storefronts had their grills firmly shut. I felt as though I had stepped into a post-Apocalyptic science-fiction film.

It took days for people to start moving in the city again. And it took months for Times Square to regain its bustle.

So now when I see people, cars, and buses moving about Manhattan I can’t take the city’s activity for granted. It is something to be savored and celebrated.

I’m still smiling as I type this, and I’ve been home for two days.

My soon-to-be kitten and I wish everyone a Happy Valentine's Day. Be ours!

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8 comments on “Country Mouse in the Big City

  1. Esty says:

    Come back soon. i missed you.
    Happy Valentine to you too!
    Love,
    Esty

  2. Debbie Posmontier says:

    Oh Tinky! I always wore a dress and gloves and sometimes a hat when we went into Philadelphia in the 50’s. We took a trolley and the elevated train to get there and I always felt such excitement! Going to New York was a very special event for us and happened infrequently, but going into “Center City” as we called downtown Philly, was a big deal. Thanks for the memories!!

  3. jean says:

    Sitting in my little home in the desert southwest where the preponderance of buildings are 1 story except in the middle of downtown, I read about your visit to New York and think, gosh that sounds like fun, riding a bus, people on the street at all hours, imagine all the sights, sounds, and smells. Then I retreat to what I know, glad that I can experience New York vicariously through Tinky. (And I too remember dressing up to go shopping in various downtown’s with my mother..back in the 40’s and 50’s)

  4. Doris Matthews says:

    You make New York city sound so interesting Tinky! I’m a little country mouse myself but do enjoy going in to Boston to see a show or visit a museum, etc. I love my home in the countryside though-I have lots and lots of elbow room here-and NO noise at night.

  5. Eleanor Coffey says:

    I love your descriptions! Harry + Sylvia would generally visit NYC around Christmas, traveling from one set of grandparents to the other. Our outfits were a bit different, but the excitement is the same! Did you have time for any shows or concerts? Maybe this was more of a working trip.

    The soon-to-be new family member is truly adorable. What will you name your kitty? Her eye color looks very close to that of our Siberian husky (dog), Kodiak. This one is mostly white with little frostings of black on the outside of her coat and now weighs 68 lbs.! Fortunately there is a 1 and 1/2 acre fenced yard where she can run around chasing squirrels, rabbits, and coyotes (not recommended).

    Meanwhile, many thanks for the newsy updates, and Happy Presidents’ Day!

  6. Kaye Hodges says:

    I really enjoyed reading ally about your trip. I’ve always wanted to go there to see all of the lights. I have a friend that lives there and wants me to come out there. You’ve tempted me!

    Kaye

  7. Anne says:

    You are never too old to start a new career …… I have just got a “job” sewing for a friend (it is hardly work when it’s doing something I love!)
    You know I don’t much like cats, but that kitten is just gorgeous – what amazing eyes!!

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      Esty, I do hope to have more time to see you on my next visit!

      Debbie and Jean, I’m glad I’m not the only one with those memories.

      Doris and Jean, I love the countryside, too. Really. It’s true the city noise is sometimes a little TOO stimulating!

      Eleanor, we are still working on the name. I promise it will be online soon.

      Kaye, you MUST go.

      Anne, your friend is lucky. And thank you for the encouragement…….

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