Today is the first day of our vacation in NYC. The word vacation has been derived from its Latin parent vacationem, something that Roman soldiers insisted on taking in the summer or whenever they were out of political favour. That word finds its origins in Vacare in Latin, which means or ‘to be empty’. You empty your schedule, empty your head and a few cases of vino.
Hence the word vacation means to empty oneself of chores and responsibility and to be joyfully unoccupied. By that logic I am clearly not on vacation regardless of what destination I might be traveling to because being with kids, getting them to bathe and brush to keep them from looking like urchins, packing and unpacking for them or cleaning up after them does not a vacation make.
If anything, being in Bombay is vacation for me because of my domestic help. “Think of it as cardio,” suggests from friend Kiran. But cardio is good for my body because, among other things, it improves blood circulation. Constantly running after my kids does not enable good circulation and if one goes by evidence, it is more in the region of blood pressure.
So here we are, my younger one and I, on this fine summer’s day, walking down the 5th Avenue, with its overwhelming high rises and ritzy shops. It is only ten am and as early birds, I am hoping to catch a worm or two at Saks. The older one is with her daddy at the Apple store and we have all promised to meet at the American Girl shop in an hour. An hour later, not much has been accomplished in spite of the pushy sales staff at the store. The child too is impatient because she never envisaged that her vacation would commence with a shopping stint with the mother at Saks. After London, everything suddenly seems cheaper in dollars and yet the constant hum of my baby asking “When will we go from here?” is preventing me from trying on the heap of clothes that I have chosen.
We then head towards the American Girl store. For the uninitiated ones among you, the American Girl is a doll store, which is more a cult than a mere shop that sells dolls. They sell not only dolls but also a lifestyle for the dolls. The American Girl store has a doll salon where you take your doll for coiffeuring and a doll hospital where, should you doll meet an accident and break a leg or two, she will be admitted and treated, put back together and returned to you with love on crutches or even on a wheelchair.
My children, who had carried their American girl dolls all the way from India, were delirious with excitement, running from one end of the store to the other, wanting to squeeze in everything the store offered in a single moment as if to make up for lost time. There were matching clothes to be bought that the girls could wear along with their respective dolls, ears to be pierced (not theirs, but the dolls’).
The first time that I had been to the American Girl store was when we were expecting our first baby and I had decided that if we had a girl, I would bring her to this store. Not only did I get a girl, I got a bonus and had two. More than a decade later, as if in answer to my prayers I was swiping my credit card and walking out with two well groomed dolls names Rebecca and Sage and two little girls who could do with a bit of grooming themselves.
So coming back to NYC and Manhattan to be specific, exciting as this city is, after spending a few weeks in London, one has to recalibrate their sensibility to be able to appreciate it. The Egyptian cabbie, who drove us to our hotel from the airport, appropriately called New York City “a big mental hospital.”
Proud buildings with steely facades blocking out the sun, littered streets, people, some fashionable some grungy, in a frenzied rush to get to somewhere, cabbies too busy to stop and even pet dogs too busy to pee at the nearest lamp post, that is NYC for you. After cultured London, it almost seems like large containers full of people from across continents have arrived in the Americas for the first time and let loose on the streets of Manhattan. In that regard, it is somewhat like Bombay but I can shut myself out of the madness of that city. The madness of Manhattan is different, it has an invincible quality to it for it. It permeates the mind, the stone walls of the buildings and everything else and envelopes you.
As a city, NYC is exciting yes, but I need to tune out of the propriety and the sober charm of London, that throbs with life in its own way, to be able to truly appreciate the Big Apple the way Woody Allen does.
There are too many things we need to tick off our ‘rediscovering New York with kids’ list – museums, galleries, parks and restaurants before we head out of here, but the hardest thing for an outsider in New York, is knowing where to start. The ideal way to cover New York would be to drift aimlessly for days, but that is not an easy thing to do as a mother of two. Let’s see how the next few days pan out. Shall keep you posted.