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Apr 07

The People of New York – by the Mom

On our whole trip so far, New York was the first place that we blended in completely. Why? Was this because New Yorkers all look like South Africans?

No. It is because there is just no such thing as an average New Yorker. This has to be the melting pot of EVERY culture on earth. Everywhere we went we saw different peoples. Different clothes, different skin, different eyes, different language, different… different. We blended in so nicely because we were just another type of different.

I also thought that we would be seeing a lot of designer outfits and power dressing. We did not. The average New Yorker (which doesn’t exist), wore comfort clothes. Maybe this was just a function of the areas that we frequented… the subways, streets, museums, streets, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, the streets…….Maybe it was just because we were there between seasons and it was hard to know what the weather would do.

The bottom line is that only in New York could we get away with being fully dressed in our winter clothes, including scarves and beanies, and yet, wear our Keen sandals on our feet.

At one point, we really believed that New York consisted only of a lot of tourists and that no-one stayed there full time. This was until we attended Redeemer Church in Manhattan.

Greg Healy was our first real New Yorker. Strictly speaking, we didn’t meet him through the church, but we arranged to meet at church. My good friend Adrienne is good friends with his wife. Although his wife was in England for the entire time and Greg had never personally met Adrienne, he really went out of his way to make us feel welcome in NY.

He treated us to a fabulous lunch at The Spring Kitchen on that first rainy day after church. He also gave us quite a few lifts in his lovely big van. Whether it was to the Larger Fairways or to pick up Propane gas in New Jersey, he was always ready to serve. I don’t know if this is typical for real New Yorkers, but he drinks an insane amount of coffee and he ALWAYS listens to the sports on his car radio while driving around. He shared with us that people who grew up in New York City, when asked where they are from, will always answer that they come from “The City”. Never New York City. We miss you Greg!

Mark and Cynthia

Mark and Cynthia Semsel are a couple that we did meet at church. They travel from Sleepy Hollow every Sunday to attend church at Redeemer in Manhattan. What a lovely couple! After treating us to a scrumptious Mexican meal, Cynthia spent an entire afternoon with the girls in Central Park while Marc drove Frans and I to the Costco so that we could stock up on low-priced items. The girls planned to interview different people and put together a short video. They say that if it wasn’t for Cynthia, they would never have spoken to so many people. She was not shy at all and started most of the conversations by introducing the girls to the random groups.(She didn’t know them either).

Both Greg and the Semsels braved the ‘extreme dingy ride’ to visit us on our boat one Sunday after church. One of my fond memories is our discussions on American football. Both Greg and Cynthia are very ardent supporters and Mark even remembered the time that Cynthia went into deep mourning when her team lost. He had to keep the curtains drawn and tiptoed around for a while.

They tried to explain American football to us and it was the closest I’ve ever been to understanding it …. but it is starting to fade already.

Just a short interlude here: The lovely woman that visited us on our boat in Florida, Dianne Martin, sent her daughter to look us up in New York City. The daughter and her two children came for an outing to Central Park. While there, they contacted us through Dianne, saying they would like to meet up with us and could we come to the park? Fortunately, this was the day that Cynthia was in the park with the girls and it was just a question of getting them to meet up. Any other day and it wouldn’t have worked at all. These Martin women have all the luck.

Redeemer church in itself says a lot about New York and its people. While we immediately felt very at home with fellow believers in Christ, it is a far cry from our own Midrand Chapel at home. Before the start of every service, they always have a short concert by very accomplished musicians. This sets a beautiful atmosphere and entices people to come early. A wide variety of classical instruments were on display during the few weeks that we attended and we even once had a whole string orchestra! New Yorkers do not do things in half measures.

The children also wanted me to mention that there is always tea and coffee and chocolate muffins after church for those who want to meet and greet.

It was at just such an informal gathering that we met Carolyn Jacobs. She met the girls first and they introduced her to us. She is from Dutch descent, but has been living in New York for a long time. She delighted us by an invitation to dinner. This was our first inside look into the apartment world of New York.

There is strict security at the entrance and they called her before letting us in. Her flat is a lovely, welcome place with a beautiful view of the Hudson River and East side park. It was just not possible to see Shang Du from her apartment. She has a balcony with a little garden and even has a tree that was planted by a bird carrying the seed. We had a very tasty dinner and the company was great.

When we expressed how safe we found New York, she shared with us that when she first moved there, it certainly wasn’t the case. As we looked out from her balcony onto a little intersection and bridge, she told us that they warned her then not to go near that spot, because it was well known for drug-trafficking. Nothing of that remains today.

Carolyn never made it to our boat for a visit, as by then, the ‘extreme dingy ride’ was becoming downright scary with the weather deteriorating more and more. Carolyn, we would love it if you could visit us in South Africa!

The last real New Yorkers that we met were Mary Adams and through her, her husband Tom. Mary has been attending at Redeemer church for the last 15 years and they have been staying in New York, in the same apartment, for more than 40. When they invited us for tea we found out that they live at the very top of one of the buildings that lie in direct view of our anchorage in the Hudson.

Their tiny, little flat has the most astonishing view. There is a huge, round window in their sitting room that takes up the whole wall. I met Mary when we sat next to each other in church. When she found out that we were anchored on the Hudson, she was so excited to tell Tom that she actually met the people living on Shang Du. They had been watching our boat from their flat for a while.

We had a great afternoon drinking tea and appreciating the view. The flat does not have air-conditioning, so Mary and Tom try to spend their Summers in Florida, where they have another apartment with AC.

After our visit I made a point of waving in the direction of that round window whenever we left our boat in the dingy or returned from a trip. Just in case they could see me. Mary and Tom, we will hold you and your amazing view in our hearts forever. We pray for you often.

The girls will never forgive me if I do not mention our Asian family. They stole our hearts with their adorable two little ones. They were just as new to the New York scene and to the church as we were on that first Sunday. While they are not ‘real’ New Yorkers, they are extremely typical of the big melting pot called New York and the way in which people from all over the world gets drawn here for whatever reason. They were our regular meet and greet family around the coffee and muffins and it was always good to see them.

I cannot end this blog without mentioning the insane people. Everywhere we walked, we came across them. They look normal at first glance, but very soon you realise that they are talking to themselves. Really loudly. Not only do they talk out loud, but they gesticulate and frown and laugh too. Once, I was sure that one of them asked me a question. I was just on the point of asking them to repeat it, when I noticed that they were staring straight through me. Really eerie. It took a while for us to realise that they are all just talking on their cell-phones with little earplugs and speakers. I think these insane people are really all part of the real New Yorkers, because they all spoke English.

New York has amazing architecture, a very rich history, great landscapes and incredible museums. But, without the people, it would be a very empty husk.

I really enjoyed our people watching stay in New York.

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