Category Archives: general


I started 2015 by waxing lyrically on how each day, each hour, each moment offers an opportunity to start again. I was so glad to leave 2014 behind and begin to craft a new year that was happier and easier than the previous one.

Ha ha ha ha ha. *sigh*

Let’s revisit my resolutions and see how I got on, shall we?

1.  Complete two crochet projects by the end of 2015. NOPE! I did start a project, but I certainly didn’t finish it. I’m not too far off, and I have been thinking about it a lot lately, so maybe I’ll get around to that soon… *

The unfinished project
The unfinished project

2. Update my science blog at least once a week. FAIL! I wrote a couple of posts, which I managed purely by finding topics that I could write about as part of my full-time job and then co-opt for the blog. Despite my inability to make much progress with Anthrophysis, I have managed to write several articles for publication in popular science magazines, contribute to an academic book chapter, and review a book for an academic journal. I think I should get points for those.

3. Practice whistling at least twice a week (and learn some new songs!). NOT EVEN CLOSE. Since moving into my new flat, I’ve only whistled once, though not for lack of wanting or having time. The walls here are thin and I hate the idea of my neighbors listening in, so I am reluctant to pick up my instruments. Considering that my hall mates routinely wake me up at 4am by throwing drunken tantrums in the hall, I really shouldn’t be so timid.

4. Continue making one-second-a-day videos to document my life. NO. This project lasted all of one week before I decided that, actually, I was satisfied with my 2014 effort, and didn’t really need to repeat that for 2015.  Making the videos is interesting and fun on days that are full of unusual activity, but it’s a real chore on quieter days or when you’re unwell. I know the whole point is to gather together clips that show how every day is valuable and stimulating in its own way, but I just couldn’t face another 365 days of worrying about this.

5. Take a selfie every day (as done by Justin Peters–for philosophical reasons and not because I’m excessively vain!). NOPE! I started off pretty well and was fairly consistent for the first half of the year, but then my zest for this project slowly faded away because I had more important things to think about. In retrospect, I can see where it would have been interesting to document the whole cancer thing via the selfie project–especially the hair loss–but I opted instead to take photos of key moments rather than every single moment.

Key moment: Caitlin's first turban
Key moment: Caitlin’s first turban

6. Add variety to my workout schedule by doing more Pilates and tai chi. KIND OF. My new flat is tiny and doesn’t leave much room for these sorts of exercises. However, I have managed to squeeze some in, and I’ve been particularly enjoying the 30-day challenges posted on Blogilates.

7. Write e-mails to my family more often. MAYBE. I don’t know that I write the sort of chatty, newsy e-mails I was envisioning when I set this resolution, but I think I probably do send more total messages as a result of firing off a larger number of quick, short updates. I still need to work on writing my grandparents more, though.

8. Go birding more often. NOT REALLY. However, I have had some very enjoyable bird sightings over the course of the year, so perhaps I can go for a quality over quantity argument here. I had some great woodpecker and jay encounters while walking between the train station and hospital in Truro; I have spotted grebes and tufted ducks at Swanpool, instead of the standard fare of mallards, coots, and gulls; and I had a delightful time watching acrobatic long-tailed tits during a lunch break on campus. There were also some kinglets and bullfinches sprinkled across the year, and those species are always a treat.

9. Try a new baked goods recipe at least once a month, and take the fruits of my labor (assuming they are edible!) to work to share with my colleagues. NOPE! I think I managed to do this only once–when I made an apple cake that I didn’t want to eat all by myself. That said, it’s not like I baked and didn’t share; it’s more that I didn’t bake at all. I have, however, continued to cook, so I think I still get some culinary points there.

10. Read at least 30 books. YES! Hallelujah, I actually achieved one of my goals! In fact, according to Goodreads, I read 42 books. Go, me!

My 2015 reads
My 2015 reads

Out of ten resolutions, then, I only managed to fully and definitely accomplish one; if you give me credit for partial accomplishment of a couple others, then perhaps–if you are feeling generous–you’ll allow me to score myself 2/10. That’s still a pretty abysmal record, and a failing grade.

But you know what? I don’t feel like I failed, and that’s because, for everything here that I didn’t do, there was something else that I did do. I went to Key West and Portugal for the first time. I saw my book Flamingo published. I was nominated for three professional services recognition awards at work. I put together a puzzle for the first time in a decade. I shaved my head. I rented a car and drove myself all over Cornwall. I chatted with friends I haven’t been in touch with in years.

I was active–I just wasn’t active in quite the way I envisioned I would be. This may sound a bit like post hoc justification of what I did and didn’t do in 2015, but when I look back now on my resolutions, I can’t help but think that I might have had a less interesting, and perhaps even less fulfilling, year if I had doggedly pursued all those goals I set in January. They involve a lot of regimentation, a lot of box-ticking, a lot of work. Yes, they also involve things I love, but would I continue to love them after forcing them on myself in such a strict way? Perhaps not. I don’t know that I want to perform the experiment and find out.

I also don’t like the idea of limiting myself. For every task that you chisel into the stone of your yearly calendar, there are other activities that you may be rendering impossible by pre-emptively robbing yourself of the time and energy needed to pursue alternatives that serendipitously fall into your lap. You limit spontaneity and whimsy. Could resolutions, therefore, actually prevent you from enjoying life more fully and growing as a person? Wouldn’t that be counterproductive?

Spontaneity: visiting with an unexpected guest
Spontaneity: visiting with an unexpected guest

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I do know this: In 2015, for the first time since I was a little girl, I allowed myself to have whole days that weren’t planned in advance, on which I sometimes achieved nothing tangible at all–and I liked it. I enjoyed letting go and being less rigid and just…going with the flow. I enjoyed living.

I am, of course, only one person, and what works for me may not work for the rest of humanity. However, I can tell you from experience that you can get an awful lot out of your time even without a massive to-do list perpetually hanging over your head and reminding you of what you should do and how you should do it. Whatever you decide is right for your personality and circumstances, just go for it. Now. Don’t waste time. Every second is precious, and each one is an opportunity. Seize it.

*Update: As of 6:45pm, the crochet project is finished! Also, I remembered that I crocheted a small gift at Christmastime. So, actually…I think I did pretty well here. Woo-hoo!

I really am fine.

People keep asking me how I am, and when I say “fine,”  or “okay”, or “not bad”, they pause, look at me intensely for a moment, and then repeat the question: “But how are YOU, you know, IN YOURSELF?”, as though that wasn’t the question I was answering the first time around. I think what they really mean is, “What’s going on in your head? What are you thinking about now that you’ve got cancer?” They assume the answer can only be depressing, which is why I keep getting that appraising look everywhere I go. Am I really holding it all together? How close am I to cracking?

The boring truth is that my thoughts are much the same as always. I’m a contemplative person by nature. Introspective. I think about all sorts of stuff, and I always have. At the moment, cancer does, of course, feature on the list of topics bouncing around my brain, but not as extensively or intrusively as you might guess. During my 34 years of being a thoughtful and solitary introvert, I’ve had a lot of dark, morbid, weird, and/or pessimistic thoughts (along with a preponderance of positive, fun, amusing, and quirky ones, of course), so this is just par for the course–nothing I can’t handle.

To be honest, a larger difference of late is that I’m thinking a lot about poetry, and as a result, I’m thinking in poetry. It’s a strange thing, but not unwelcome. I used to be a poet, back in a former life before I became a scientist. Each of my scientific milestones pushed me further and further into the realm of prose, burying my inner poet ever deeper inside me. I was keenly aware of this process but felt powerless to stop it; it was just too difficult for my mind to swing from spreadsheets and stats and scatter plots to alliteration and symbolism and heart-rending turns of phrase.

But recently I went looking for a poem to send a friend, and in the middle of paging through Billy Collins and Mary Oliver, reveling in each of their straightforward but elegant styles, I suddenly realized how very must I missed that type of writing in my life–both as something to read and as something to write. I went on a book-buying spree and wound up with fives volumes of poetry that I read one after the other.

In hindsight, I may have read a bit too much a bit too fast. The night after I stayed up late to finish Billy Collins’ Aimless Love, I lay wide awake for hours, mentally composing fragments of poems and compiling lists of topics that I should address in future creations. It was as though I had been gestating hundreds of poems for a decade, and they were now all ready to be born simultaneously.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my genre of choice is nature poetry, and many of the images that flashed through my mind that night involved recent memorable encounters with wildlife or habitats or processes of the natural world. The sound of a fox yipping in the woods in the middle of the night. The sight of dozens of shorebirds orienting themselves in exactly the same direction while huddling in the wetlands during a cold and windy morning. The feeling of the sun’s warmth on my back as its rays finally began peeking through the clouds at the end of an overcast day. The smell of seaside at low tide.

In the grand scheme of things, these may all seem like relatively simple observations and experiences, yet they all act as metaphors–the lifeblood of poetry. That fox in the night? A way of describing the thoughts that haunt you as you lie sleepless in the dark. The sunshine? That is hope, persisting regardless of the trials the world throws you. Or, you could dispense with literary devices altogether and just enjoy the loveliness of the images for their own sake. It is that loveliness that made those visions stick in my mind to begin with; they all brought a smile to my face and engendered a feeling of happiness, wonderment, peace.

I realize that poetry is not a genre that appeals to everyone. But I do think that everyone needs a boost at some point in their lives. If you aren’t the type to look for beauty and universal truths in the form of lyrical writing–or even to seek them actively at all–then perhaps you could merely give yourself the space and time to pause and passively appreciate the inherent loveliness in the world around you–the same world that inspired all those poets to begin with. It doesn’t even have to be the natural world, though it’s hard to deny the appeal of waterfalls, rustling fields of waving grasses, a singing thrush, or any of the nearly infinite number of natural experiences that have brought a lump to some human’s throat at some point in our species’ history. There is poetry also in the complex flow of cars in a roundabout, the glow of thousands of streetlights seen from an airplane flying over a city, the jumble of smells rising from a farmers’ market, the coordination of the many different players on a football pitch.

It doesn’t matter where you find loveliness, or when, or how; the point is that you do. Make a mental stockpile of those moments of zen so you can recall them when the world doesn’t seem like such a great place. Or, better yet, in those moments when you can’t see much beauty around you, force yourself to really look for it; that’s when it makes the biggest difference to your frame of mind. It’s no coincidence that I rediscovered poetry just after I was diagnosed with cancer, and it’s no coincidence that the poems I’ve read have moved me as much as they have. It’s also no coincidence that I’ve found myself watching birds more often, taking the scenic route when commuting, listening to certain songs on repeat, seeking out particularly favorite delicacies when I eat. I’ve been filling my life with poetic moments, to enjoy now and also to relive later.

Of all the poems I’ve read recently, there is one that sticks in my mind most for exploring why poetry is so appealing in moments like this, and why/how it resonates the way it does.  That poem is Baby Listening, by Billy Collins:

According to the guest information directory,
baby listening is a service offered by this seaside hotel.

Baby-listening–not a baby who happens to be listening,
as I thought when I first checked in.

Leave the receiver off the hook,
The directory advises,
and your infant can be monitored by the staff,

though the staff, the entry continues,
cannot be held responsible for the well-being
of the baby in question.

Fair enough: someone to listen to the baby.
But the phrase did suggest a baby who is listening,
lying there in the room next to mine
listening to my pen scratching against the page,

or a more advanced baby who has crawled
down the hallway of the hotel
and is pressing its tiny, curious ear against my door.

Lucky for some of us,
poetry is a place where both are true at once,
where meaning only one thing at a time spells malfunction.

Poetry wants to have the baby who is listening at my door
as well as the baby who is being listened to,
quietly breathing into the nearby telephone.

And it also wants the baby
who is making sounds of distress
into the curved receiver lying in the crib

while the girl at reception has just stepped out
to have a smoke with her boyfriend
in the dark by the great wash and sway of the North Sea.

Poetry wants that baby, too,
even a little more than it wants the others.

I could write an entire blog entry dissecting this particular piece, but it’s that final thought that is most relevant here–the idea that poems are a place to consider tragic events and really mull them over in detail. Through the magic of metaphor and artfully chosen vocabulary and perfectly crafted rhythms, poets can sweep you off your feet with beauty while also helping you confront the reality that life is not always easy or pleasant or enjoyable. But the aesthetics of poetry make that message a little more bearable–as does the fact that the mere existence of these verses proves that you are not alone, that someone else has experienced these very same thoughts and feelings that currently consume you.

Beyond extolling the virtues of both Billy Collins and Mary Oliver–both truly gifted poets that I can’t recommend highly enough–all of this is a very long-winded way of saying that I really am fine. I pause to watch gulls hover on the wind; I stop to smell flowers growing by the sidewalk; I smile at the antics of dogs making friends with each other out on the street; I close my eyes to better enjoy the delicious flavor of fresh papaya. I am finding moments of zen everywhere I look, and sometimes they even find me and catch me unawares.

I may have cancer, but life is still filled with beauty. It is a poem, and I am living it.

Five days in NYC

New York City. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. Empire City. Call it whatever you like, there is no denying that it is an iconic and fascinating place. As an American living abroad, you hear lots of references to NYC: People talk about having been there or wanting to go there, and they sometimes ask if you’re from NYC or, if not, how far away your hometown is from it. For better or worse, it is a place that outsiders view as being representative of the US.

big sky

That’s why I hate to admit that I’ve never been the biggest fan. Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of any city, so it’s not really anything personal. That said, I do have an extreme fondness for some cities (Prague springs to mind), so sometimes my innate dislike of built-up areas can be overcome. So why have I never really bonded with New York? Did I visit at the wrong age? Spend time in the wrong parts of town? Go at the wrong time of year? Travel with the wrong group of people? It’s inhabited by 8.5 million residents and visited annually by millions more, so surely I have been missing out on something.

skyline from harbor

This summer, I traveled to NYC as a tourist for the first time since I was 10 years old (other more recent trips had been more functional and shorter-term), and I hoped I might discover that “something” that keeps everyone raving about the city. I spent time with three different types of people, sometimes simultaneously: my parents, Sasha, and Sasha’s sister and some of her NYC-dwelling friends. That meant that I had the opportunity to engage in many different sorts of activities over the course of my five days in the city.

On the first day, my parents and I hopped a train from New Jersey, where we’d spent the night after the long drive from Ohio the day before. We dragged our luggage to the rental office for the small apartment we were sharing in Midtown; Sasha met us there, having just wrapped up this year’s ISBE conference. My parents were not impressed at the facilities that their money had bought, but I didn’t think our little place was too bad. The location was incredibly convenient, the kitchenette allowed us to provide our own breakfasts, and the AC unit drowned out the noise from the traffic outside. The only thing I found bizarre was that the bedrooms were so tiny that our double beds not only took up nearly the whole of each room, but also had to be positioned sideways–leaving us sleeping parallel with the “headboard” rather than perpendicular to it. However, because we packed so much in to each day of our visit, the strange orientation did not prevent me from sleeping soundly through the night.

Our first outing was to the High Line, an elevated public park that runs between Gansevoort and West 34th Streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It comprises a walkway, gardens, seating areas, and art installations–all located where a train line used to run from 1934 to 1980. I wasn’t sure if the High Line would be of interest to anyone else, so I was pleased when my proposal to visit was met with enthusiasm all around.

high line
Sasha and my father chat while strolling along the High Line boardwalk
A contextual view of High Line greenery in its urban environment
A contextual view of High Line greenery in its urban environment
letter sculpture
One of the art installations associated with the High Line
And what should I find along the High Line but my all-time favorite plant, the sassafras?
And what should I find along the High Line but my all-time favorite plant, the sassafras?
Sasha designated this the "fox poo" sculpture, another piece of "art" (sometimes the term must be used loosely) we encountered along the High Line.
Sasha designated this the “fox poo” sculpture, another piece of “art” (sometimes the term must be used loosely) we encountered along the High Line.

I love innovations that introduce green spaces into urban areas, and I am particularly impressed when those innovations also involve the reclamation of structures/areas that are historically interesting and might otherwise be left to decay into unwanted eyesores. It’s such a satisfying win-win.

By the end of our stroll, we’d worked up enough of an appetite to justify visiting Eataly for both lunch and sightseeing purposes. Along the way, we passed by this lovely piece of architecture:

The Flatiron Building, aka the Fuller Building, completed in 1902--at which point it was one of the tallest buildings in the city.
The Flatiron Building, aka the Fuller Building, completed in 1902–at which point it was one of the tallest buildings in the city.

As I mentioned elsewhere, Eataly was a treat for the senses, but, generally speaking, torture for the bank account. However, I have to admit that all of New York was pretty darn expensive. $8 for a tiny bag of granola? $6 for a box of tea? I don’t know how anybody manages to get by on those sorts of prices. They must fast a lot. Or dumpster-dive.

Eataly produce
Eataly produce

We took the rest of the afternoon off so that we could rest and gear up for our big night out on the town–the classical dinner-and-a-show duo in which all NYC tourists should partake. While walking to db bistro moderne for our meal, we came across a quintessential cityscape:

Buildings reflected on the side of a building

I’ve already described our wonderful meal, but I haven’t yet mentioned what we did afterwards: Head to the Shubert Theater for a showing of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I usually have a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for stage productions (yes, I appreciate the irony given that I used to perform in them), but I love Roald Dahl and have always been a fan of this particular story, so I was actually looking forward to seeing this performance–even though it was that most dreaded of genres, the musical.

Our walk to the theater took us past Times Square, which I’d never previously visited. If you’re in NYC, it is definitely worth spending a few minutes in Times Square if for no other reason than to observe the sheer spectacle. There were topless women in body paint and cabaret headdresses; there were people dressed as superheroes and comic book characters, posing with tourists for money; there were food vendors and people with cheap knickknacks and artists selling their work; there were lots of really bright lights; and, of course, there were thousands of people taking selfies.

Even my parents took a selfie.
Even my parents took a selfie. I’m not sure if this means the world is coming to an end, or that my parents are just really hip.
Shubert Theater
The Shubert Theatre, outside and in

There was quite a crowd outside the Shubert, but we got inside quickly and found our way to our very well positioned seats. My mom and I were immediately drawn to, and impressed by, the Scrabble tile-themed backdrop, which was only one of many reasons to appreciate the aesthetics of the theater. It was a fairly small venue with an intimate (but not cramped) feel, decorated with tastefully ornate carpets and chandeliers with gold accents. It was the kind of place that the average person can actually afford to visit, but which still makes you feel special for the evening.

The performance itself was very enjoyable, though I think we were all fading a bit by the end–no fault of the performers. The young actress who played Matilda had quite a set of pipes, but Craig Els really stole the show as Miss Trunchbull. He deserves an award, or a raise, or at the very least another great role after Matilda finishes its run.

On our relatively short walk home from the theater, we were treated to a pleasant view of the moon and Empire State Building battling it out for the honor of being the brightest object in the sky:

Empire State 2

We took it pretty easy the next day, hanging around our apartment until mid-morning. We found ourselves with an awkward amount of time in between our departure and our lunchtime reservation in lower Harlem, and we decided to fill the gap by taking in the scenery at Rockefeller Plaza. This wasn’t new to my parents or to Sasha, but I either hadn’t been before or didn’t remember my previous visit, so it was nice to see the iconic location in person.

Paul Manship’s Prometheus statue
building art
Lee Lawrie’s “Progress” bas relief
Jeff Koons' "Split-Rocker" sculpture, made of 50,000 flowering plants
Jeff Koons’ “Split-Rocker” sculpture, made of 50,000 flowering plants

We did quite a lot of metro-riding on our second day–between our apartment and Rockefeller Plaza, between Rockefeller Plaza and Harlem, and from Harlem back down to the World Trade Center area. I remember riding the subway when I was younger–not only in NYC but also in DC, Boston, and, later, London–and being absolutely amazed at how my parents, and all the other commuters, somehow magically knew how buy tickets from the automated machines and then how to hop on and off at just the right stops, switching fluidly from one line to another in order to get where they needed to go. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my parents had meticulously consulted metro maps prior to our journey, and that the locals had memorized their routes after years of daily use. This being the 21st century, and me being the tech-loving girl that I am, I decided to trade in maps for apps, and rely on a series of free programs (TripIt, Moovit, and good ole Google Maps) to tell me the quickest and easiest way to navigate between destinations. I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself that travel is so much easier in the smartphone era than it ever was before.

Kids these days. They never put their cell phones down.
Kids these days. They never put their cell phones down.

The last time my parents visited New York, the Ground Zero area was not much more than a hole in the ground; much of the major rubble had been cleared, but construction of the new building and museum had not yet begun. They were eager to revisit the site in order to see the progress that had been made. I always feel a bit weird about “dark tourism” (to borrow a term from my geography colleagues who take their students to NYC to study this very pilgrimage, among other things), because it seems a little voyeuristic. There is, however, something powerful and moving about going somewhere in order to bear witness to something that has happened there, and, in so doing, connect with the people who were–and still are–affected.

Approach to One WTC
The approach to One WTC
WTC fountain
World Trade Center Memorial Fountain–bordered by a ledge that bears the names of all the victims of the 9/11 attack

The truth is that One WTC is an impressive building; it is the tallest in the city, with lovely clean lines and a sparkling reflective facade. It is a bold but elegant response to the tragedy that occurred on that site 13 years ago–a clear statement that the people of New York would not be intimidated, and would pick up the pieces and carry on. I have to respect that.

WTC from below
I can’t imagine what the view must be like from the top of One WTC, but it is certainly spectacular from below.

By the time we’d made it around the base of the WTC, we hadn’t left ourselves too much time to get to our next destination–the southeastern entrance of Battery Park, through which we could access the ship on which we’d booked a harbor tour. We eventually flagged down a taxi driver who was willing to take us the minuscule distance, and we made it to the waterfront with a few minutes to spare. As a result, we were able to watch the deckhands prepare for our journey.

Hello, sailor.
Hello, sailor.
sails and rigging
Clear skies at night, tourists’ delight.

The ship didn’t actually sail all that far out into the harbor, but it went out to the one destination that is at the top of the to-do lists of probably 99% of all NYC tourists: the Statue of Liberty. We approached the statue from the east, which meant that our initial view was pretty poor thanks to the fact that we were looking straight into the setting sun. Our skipper, however, knew the needs and desires of his passengers, and made sure to swing around so that we could snap good photos to our hearts’ content.

Lady Liberty, your love keeps lifting me higher. (Ghostbusters reference, anyone?)
skyline 2
We also got some lovely views of the New York City skyline

It was a very pleasant evening, if a bit breezy (probably I should have worn something other than a short skirt that was particularly susceptible to blowing about in the wind). We’d walked a fair amount throughout the day, so it was quite relaxing to sit in the sun and  sip cocktails while being gently rocked by the waves. If I were wealthy, I’d live someplace tropical and spend every evening that way.

Other than our farewell dinner at Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar, the boat trip was the last outing we had with my parents before they took off the next morning for their own adventure in the Finger Lakes region. Sasha and I, on the other hand, were due to stay in the city for another couple of days in order to visit with his sister, who was flying up from New Orleans that evening. We decided to spend our free day doing a Ghostbusters walking tour–not an official one, since I couldn’t find a single company that took visitors exclusively to Ghostbusters  locations–but an informal one using an itinerary I crafted with the help of my travel agent (aka Google).

Hook and Ladder

We started by dumping off our luggage at our very swanky hotel right next to Grand Central Terminal. I’d chosen it because they had in-house masseurs that would come to your room and give you a massage. Unfortunately, the prices for that service were too exorbitant even for indulgent little me, but at least the rest of the facilities justified that choice of venue. It certainly was convenient to be adjacent to the train station, where we hopped a southbound train in the first leg of our journey to Hook & Ladder 8, the site of the Ghostbusters’ headquarters.

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

Although it was no problem to find the correct neighborhood, it took us a while to reach the station itself because we didn’t realize that Broadway and West Broadway were two completely separate, more or less parallel streets in the same area of town. This led to much backtracking and walking in circles as we tried to navigate using only my phone–with the added difficulty that it was practically impossible to see the screen in the glaring sunlight.

There was one other geeky couple also on a Ghostbusters pilgrimage, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves. Once we were done collecting photographic evidence of our visit, we trekked up to Washington Square Park. Although normal people might visit the park for other reasons, we were there because a gigantic ghost appears near Washington Square Arch in Ghostbusters 2. During our visit, we encountered no supernatural creatures, though we did find a group of…hippies? nudists? feminists? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that they didn’t have shirts on. We sat on a bench in the park for a good 10 minutes before I realized there were naked people behind us, at which point Sasha then noticed an older gentleman sitting nearby with a video camera. Classy.

Those women seem to have forgotten to put on shirts.
Those women seem to have left home without putting all their clothes on.
Washington Square Arch
Washington Square Arch, dedicated in 1895, but not currently haunted by any undead–as far as we could tell. There were some buskers, though.
Sidewalk drawing under the Washington Square Arch
Sidewalk drawing under the Washington Square Arch

Although our feet were beginning to hurt from all the walking, we pushed on in the hopes of wandering past somewhere that looked like a good spot for lunch. Frustrated at seeing nothing but retail stores, I eventually pulled out my phone and searched for restaurant recommendations. I was particularly interested in hot dogs, because Sasha had a craving that needed to be fulfilled. Shake Shack came highly recommended, but when we arrived in Madison Square Park we discovered quite a long line despite the fact that it was already 2 PM and well past the typical lunchtime. We waited for five or ten minutes while I did some more Googling and found us an alternative: a Five Guys a few blocks away. It wasn’t exactly on par with the rest of the dining we did during the trip, but it did taste good–and it’s not exactly like hot dogs are a gourmet food item, anyway.

Having satisfied our rumbling bellies, we took a brief detour to indulge in that most American of pastimes: shopping. It’s impossible to visit the US without stocking up on things that we needed but couldn’t find back home in Falmouth. After getting a couple of shirts for Sasha and a belt for me, we hopped back on the subway and made our way to Columbus Circle for what turned out to be our final bit of Ghostbusters-themed sightseeing. First and foremost was a visit to Dana’s apartment building:

Are you the Keymaster?
“Your girlfriend lives in the corner penthouse of Spook Central.”
ghost central detail
“There is no Dana; only Zuul.”

From there we popped across the street to the Tavern on the Green, where Louis became the Keymaster. I would have taken a photo, but I couldn’t get a very good angle, and there were lots of people out having drinks and food; I wasn’t sure they’d appreciate inadvertently being my models. A bit more Googling informed us that we were very close to supposedly one of the best gelato places in the world, so we found our way to Grom for some late-afternoon sugar. I’d hoped to make one more Ghostbusters stop (the New York Public Library) en route to the hotel, but we just didn’t have the energy. Next time.

Over dinner, we hatched plans to spend the following day at the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival. I only knew about the event because of my dad, who had stumbled across it while doing research about things we could do while in New York. The timing didn’t work out for him or my mom, but, luckily, it did for Sasha, Tania, and me. We made our way out to Flushing Meadows Park without any incident, but then had difficulty navigating our way to the site of the dragon boat racing. We knew the general direction in which we needed to go, and we incorrectly assumed that there would be signage pointing the way–or, at the very least,  streams of people making their way to the celebration. However, there were no signs, the path forked in an unexpected and inconvenient way as soon as we entered the park, and we couldn’t find anyone to follow.

We proceeded to spend the next hour or so wandering around, trying and failing to use Google maps to get us to where we needed to go. At one point we followed some promising celebratory noises, only to find ourselves at a festival of Ecuadoran culture. We also serendipitously located some architectural remnants of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs:

Sasha and Tania play Atlas
Sasha and Tania play Atlas
Recognize those towers in the background? If you do, then you already know that they are actually spaceships in disguise.
Recognize those towers in the background? If you do, then you already know that they are actually spaceships in disguise.
I have no idea who this is or what he is doing, but I like him nonetheless.
I have no idea who this is or what he is doing, but I like him nonetheless.

Eventually, we did find our way to the lake on which the dragon boat races were taking place. By that point, frankly, I was no longer all that interested in the races, and simply wanted to eat. Luckily, there were many food options available, and they all looked and smelled delicious. As you might imagine, given the event, there were quite a few vendors selling Asian food, and I ultimately opted for an order of potstickers–which were so good. I could easily have eaten a second batch, but I satisfied myself instead with a roasted ear of corn.

After we ate, we went to the water’s edge and saw two whopping heats of races before heading back into the city.

(Please excuse the tilt; it was so bright that I couldn’t see what I was doing when I was filming the race.)

Given the fact that we didn’t know anyone who was competing, I’m not entirely sure that the boating events themselves were worth the trip (especially considering the epic route that we took), but it certainly was an adventure, and the food was delicious, and the outing gave us time to chat and catch up. All’s well that ends well.

Taking in the scenery
Sunset over the creatively named East River

Sasha and I had the evening to ourselves, and so we had a date night in the city–dining at Sakagura and then following our meal with the incredibly romantic and emotionally gripping remake of Hercules. (*ahem*) We paused en route from the restaurant to the movie theater in order to admire the sight of the moon rising over the East River.

The following morning, we spent our last bit of free time in New York on the other side of the water, eating in Brooklyn Heights and then wandering along the river up towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Along the way, we gawked at the tiny apartments and discussed how incredibly expensive they are despite the fact they’re barely bigger than closets. It was a topic that came up because we passed several people–during both that walk and others we had taken during our time in the city–who were discussing property locations, square footage, and soaring rent prices. I am glad not to have to worry about such things.

Here there be dragons. I'm not even sure what this is (a hitching post? a bike rack?), but I like the look of it.
Here there be dragons. I’m not even sure what this is (a hitching post? a bike rack?), but I like the look of it.


In fact, I’m glad not to have to live in New York. I’m also glad I don’t need to visit the city on a regular basis (unless you count my routine stops at JFK Airport during trips between the US and the UK). The Big Apple is, undeniably, a fascinating place. It’s got a lot of history, a wealth of beautiful buildings, tons of interesting things to do, and delicious food to eat, but it is just too much for me. Too many people. Too much noise. Way too much garbage sitting out in plastic bags on the sidewalk, stinking up the place. Too high a cost of living. Inconveniently large amounts of traffic on the roads and highways. It’s more stimulation than I need or want, even over short periods of time.

However, I can see where other people–those who like action and excitement and socializing–would see it as a paradise. It’s definitely a place that is worth visiting at least once. If you go when you’re young, as I did, it’s also worth taking second trip when you’re older and can see it from a different perspective. The whole time I was there, I kept thinking about the University of Exeter geography students who were scheduled to visit the city just a couple weeks after my departure. As much as I knew that I’d be happy to get back to my relatively sleepy little corner of the British southwest, I also recognized that those guys were probably about to have the time of their lives, exploring that huge, exciting city and experiencing all sorts of new things. Maybe some of them would fall in love with the place and hope to find a way return for careers or holidays; maybe others would be like me and appreciate the short-term experience on a cerebral level but look forward to the quiet of Cornwall once it was all over. Either way, one thing I can virtually promise is that each of them found at least one thing to enjoy during their visit, just as I did. After all, there are many ways you can describe New York, but one thing you cannot say is that it’s boring.