New York State

Thursday 11 May to Friday 26 May

While your children live overseas you will always be drawn to their cities of abode. This time it is back to New York, and better – for an occasion. Stephanie was graduating from the University of Columbia Teacher’s College where she studied International Education with a view to working with education policies. 

Steph had finished her studies and Evan was working, so Bruce, Steph and I had a day out together.  We took the East River ferry to get some amazing views of New York, then wandered into downtown and the stock market area. We had been there before, and as usual the Charging Bull in Bowling Green Square in the Financial District was nearly impossible to photograph as so many tourists were hovering.

Since we were last here there has been a new installation of the ‘Fearless Girl’. And it is not without criticism, the artist of the Charging Bull, Arturo Di Modica believes it is violating his rights by installing the now widely popular ‘Fearless Girl’ statue near his creation, without permission. Others argue that the ‘Fearless Girl’ demonstrates inequality for women in employment.  I will go with that.

On Saturday Steph’s parents Jenny & Neil arrive. They are staying at Aloft and we are holed up on the inflatable mattress at Evan & Stephanie’s for another couple of days.  Evan & Steph have nominated rights to the inflatable mattress, so there is no argument.

Sunday was Mother’s Day. It was a cold day with some rain. Evan & Stephanie had managed a surprising treat for us all.  First we met at W127th Street and were ushered onto a bus to the Hudson Line train station. We were herded off the train at Tarrytown, and after a short walk, were treated to lunch at the River Market. Service was great, ambience magic. Mother’s Day in New York was an exceptional treat.

Afterwards we ambled through Tarrytown, sheltering during occasional outburst of rain, before boarding the train back to E125th street, and the bus across to the west side of Manhatten.

On Monday we moved to Allies Bed and Breakfast, while Jenny & Neil took up residence at Chez TempleStain. It was a cool day, but the rain held off

In the afternoon we were invited to a cocktail party for international students. President Susan H Furhman welcomed the parents and partners of the international students and acknowledged their support of the students. It was lovely to meet some of Steph’s friends from her course. Afterwards we went home to enjoy Steph’s chicken tagine. 

Tuesday’s event, the Convocation (new word), started at 11:30am. The day was warmer and I was able to get out in a slightly summery outfit. First we were treated to lunch at the Teachers’ College, then we moved to the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. The large cathedral was full. We met Stephanie’s friend from Pakistan, Urooj. Her delightful mum sat with us – she has made the journey from Pakistan and will stay on to visit her mother in Kansas. I can’t imagine how long since she last saw her mother. More speeches and each graduate was named and received a small medal. Evan has taken the day off work and we celebrated with dinner at Vinateria, just south of 125th street. 

We had a very early start on Wednesday. The gates open for family and friends at 8:30am for the Commencement of 2017 and we have a half hour walk. Sky blue gowns are everywhere. A large contingent of supporters are trying to find their way. In my impatience, I race ahead and we lose the other parents, Jenny & Neil. We find them in the queue ahead of us on the other side of a barrier. We plead ‘Australians who have come a long way, and got separated’ and they let us through the barrier. 

Wednesday had turned surprisingly warm. Seating was in the central courtyard of this Ivy League University and it is hot. Jenny starts making paper hats for us all with the newspaper style information sheets. Quickly more paper hats appear. 

The procession of graduates started at 9:30 and the heads of faculty arrived just before 10:30   President Lee C Bollinger reminds the graduates that the events of the year they graduate will always be memorable. However, he suggests that this year will be more memorable than most. He talks about the dangers of popularism and insular thinking and the importance of free speech. He invited anyone who had been gagged at any other university in the country to come speak at Columbia, not because he agreed with their views but because open, transparent discussion was the only way a democracy can exist. Of course there were many thinly veiled criticisms of the current Trump administration with its lack support for climate change, free speech and fair medical insurance.

We we’re on cooking dinner duty for our last night in New York. Evan had arranged for Steph’s friend Deanne to make a surprise but fleeting visit from Connecticut, and we cooked up a sort of risotto at the same time clearing what we could out of the fridge because Evan and Steph were off to Australia on Friday for yet another wedding. 

Deanne is a delightful lady, and it is thanks to her and her husband that Evan and Steph were able to get their green cards.

On Thursday we took an Uber to 184th street to pick up a Hertz rental car for the next 5 weeks, and headed to Long Island to visit an old colleague of Bruce’s – Earl Gandel. 

Earl had spent two years in Melbourne heading up the newly formed office of Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, arriving on the day Bob Hawke was elected Prime Minister, and just before Hayden was born. Evan participated in their farewell parties as a new born. 

Earl & Cathie and young sons Matthew and Stephen made a great impression on the somewhat localised Melbourne members of the DFS agency. It was the days of Ian Beavis, Jim Everard, Karen Sproul and Sean Cummins. It was days of hard work and hard parties and big expense accounts. 

Earl has long since retired from the advertising world but kept working until he was eighty. Cathie still writes, but journalism is changing and work is getting tighter. 

We drove to Main Beach for a photo opportunity for Andrea’s brother-in-law Toni’s 50th, then to Sag Harbour for clams and lobster sandwich. 

The houses on Long Island are beautiful weatherboards set on extensive patches of green lawn. I realised that so many movies I had seen had been set in this part of the world. With just a week before the summer season starting on Memorial Day there was a flurry of activity preparing for this mostly summer resort area. 

After the bustle and pace of New York, Bridgehampton was slow paced and relaxing. We chatted and planned. Some concrete plans started to formulate – Catskills and Finger Lakes in New York State, then to Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. Smokey Mountain appealed as well. 

We left Bridgehampton and found our way to Connecticut for an overnight stop to see New Haven and Yale University. We returned to New York State, continuing to our next destination of Kingston on the edge of the Catskill Mountains in the Hudson Valley. Our motel was set within a massive shopping precinct. Spring brings renewed gardens and each of the four outdoor stores were busy. 

We drove into Kingston and found just a lot of weatherboard houses mostly in poor condition. We couldn’t find a center of town and assumed the shopping mall where we were staying, about 6km from town, was the main shopping hub. 

After finding a very decent coffee next day we set off to explore the Catskills before the rain came. 

Lonely Planet suggested a ‘white knuckle’ drive between the hippy town of Woodstock and Tannesville. The road was indeed pretty but not at all challenging. Of much more interest was a hotel that was collapsing and the tiny Rip Van Winkle lake. 

Next stop was the Kaaterskill Waterfalls and a 2 kilometer hike from the car park. These are the highest waterfalls in New York State and it was a delightful hike. We managed to get back to our car just as the rain started, a couple of hours later than forecast. 

We crossed the mighty Hudson and made our way to the Vanderbilt Mansion, arriving just as the Mansion closed for the day. The mansion was being renovated and it was raining, but we managed to see the formal gardens. 

The Vanderbilt’s made their fortune in the railways, even building Grand Central Station. With no offspring, the mansion was bequeathed to their niece, Margaret “Daisy” Van Alen, who in turn donated it to the state at the suggestion of President Roosevelt.

What we missed in this area was the Roosevelt estate. FDR was responsible for establishing many of the national parks in the USA and was passionate about outdoors an regrowth.

Our next stop in New York State was Ithaca in the Finger Lakes region. Ithaca is the home of Ithaca College and Cornell University and we arrived between the graduation of the two colleges. The small CBD of Ithaca was alive with students clearly celebrating their graduation. Some interesting outfits and lots of skinny dresses for young girls who clearly haven’t heard of ‘cold’. 

We had a wonderful meal at Simeons, right in the centre of Ithaca and a drink afterwards.

Next day we toured the Finger Lakes. Always on the lookout for a good coffee, we made our first stop at Montour Falls.  We were overwhelmed by the beauty of the main street, with the waterfall cascading at the end of it.  The coffee shop we had planned to visit looked disappointing, but we found a lovely place across the road. A local man entertained us with his travel experiences and a couple of girls wandered in and were also interested in our travels.

The Mantour Falls are also known by the indigenous name of  She-Qua-Ga Falls, from the Native Americas who lived in the area, meaning Tumbling Waters.

From there we drove up the west side of Seneca Lake to Geneva at the top of the lake. This is a town renowned for its lovely buildings and at the centre of the wine industry of New York State. Perhaps what is overlooked in their tourist brochures is one of the very best ice cream parlours I have ever visited.

From there we drove to Seneca Falls and made a surprising discovery. This is the home of the very first meeting for women’s suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton arranged a convention in June 1848 where “the elective franchise” or the right to vote was first written and signed.

The campaign was interrupted by the Civil War in 1861-1865 and again by the World War One between 1914 and 1919. The seventy-two year fight ended in 1920 when the 19th amendment, which gave women of the United Stated the right to vote, was ratified.

Just as a reminder, New Zealand offered full voting and representational rights for women in 1893 and Australia in 1902, just a year after Federation, although aboriginal people had to wait until 1962. Sadly, other countries such as Switzerland (1971) waited many more years.

Our second day in Ithaca was wet, so we settled on a highly recommended tour of the Johnson Museum of Art at Ithaca University. It is a small museum with some interesting pieces, including Andy Warhole’s soups and a new installation ‘What is Left is Felt’ with a red theme.  The installation was calling for donations, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to discard the clumsy red cover of my iPhone.

Ithaca is well known for the numerous waterfalls, so we stopped by its most famous – Cascades, just out of town.  Here some fly-fishermen were testing their skills, and happily, returning their catches to the water.  The area was once used for testing ammunitions and there were numerous warnings about lead in the surrounding waters – a legacy of little understood environmental factors.