An Episode in the life of Martina Bellini, curly-headed nursing student
On the road
Have come back from New York City. It was on a whim, but not entirely, because it was sort of planned, though the details came together very last minute. An old friend got married – sort of. He joined a group of Franciscan brothers, and was making promises to them. Like a wedding ceremony, but without the rented tux and gift registry. I absolutely had to be there, but the question was: how? It was a scary idea to rent a car and drive there by myself (we’re talking New York City drivers... no thank you!) and I could have flown, but I’ve heard stories about yellow cab drivers as well who drive drive you around Brooklyn and leave you on some lonely street corner, thinking it is actually Manhattan, looking for Central Park. I did not fancy myself figuring out how to get back home from the depths of Brooklyn...or New Jersey for that matter, so I decided the only option was to drive, and take someone with me.
Enter Theresa. I casually mentioned that I was going for the weekend, and she made noises about having always wanted to go, so I planted the idea of her coming with me. Soon enough (at the crack of dawn) (I mean that literally – Starbucks wasn’t even open!) we found ourselves in her car, on the great highway systems of North America. I was a little nervous to begin with, because Theresa had made such a big deal about not making rest stops, and how I needed to be awake to keep her company as well as navigate. Well, being awake means coffee, and coffee means stopping so.... What’s a girl to do? I drank coffee and hoped for the best. Turned out she had to stop first, so that was alright.
Have you ever noticed in movies set in New York, that the approach is quiet and innocent-seeming? It feels like any decent-sized city, sane and normal; then out of nowhere, crazy drivers surround you, unhelpful signs point you in all directions, and suddenly the horizon disappears behind bridges and overpasses and tall buildings. Just minutes ago, you felt like you were the only person heading into the Big Apple, and before you know it, you’re swallowed up in the press of motorized humanity, every one of them seemingly knowing where they’re going while you’re desperately trying to keep your car on the road, choosing the right toll lane, and figuring out where the dickens they’ve put the Bronx.
We arrived right on time for the evening’s proceedings which were simply beautiful. There was a simple meal afterwards and some entertainment in the adjoining courtyard. It was cute to see religious Brothers and Sisters in their long robes sitting on the fire escapes of the neighbouring buildings, with bare, sandal-shod feet dangling in the air. Music and poetry filled the hearts of the gathered community, while the scent of flowers and the warm glow of candle light filled the night. It was a truly magical experience, made all the more so by the realization that we were actually in New York. Through the gate, I could see people sitting in lawn chairs on the corner as their kids played in the street; it was just like I had imagined, except a little more...normal, somehow.
The next day we had some free time to explore the city a little before the big ceremony took place, so we took the subway downtown. Every now and then we'd giggle at each other, totally giving ourselves away as tourists. Then, oddly enough, we met up with Serge and Heals, a couple of friends from ‘back home’. There they were on the steps of St. Patrick’s, for all the world like we were meeting at our local Tim Horton’s. Our first order of business was to find something to eat (Serge was quite pregnant and needed food in a serious way)– hopefully an honest-to-goodness New Yawk diner breakfast, which turns out to be a rare bird. We walked and walked and walked, stumbling across Times Square, where we finally indulged in a very costly meal of waffles in a booth once occupied by Nathan Lane. I wonder if Nathan also had to ask for syrup? It was not New York's finest hour.
And so began our New York City Marathon. I’m not sure if we walked uptown or downtown...crosstown maybe? It felt like we walked forever, though it was probably only six hours. But I’d like the record to show it was the hottest day with the highest humidity of the summer and those six hours should be multiplied by at least three because it felt like we were wading through a steam bath. We would march by famous landmark buildings, glancing at them over our shoulders as we kept on going past. There was no time for casual sightseeing: we were practically ticking locations off our list as we trekked through the city: Chrysler Building - check!; Radio City Music Hall - check!; Rockefeller whossit - check! Keep on going! One thing we all noticed was the police presence. New York City has to be one of the safest places on the planet...there were as many cops in Time Square as there were tourists; the police station there is as glittery and eye-catching as the massive, building-high advertisements. But holy cow, do they need to include some coffee shops or convenience stores or something! Just a little note to the Big Apple tourist board. That, and better signage at the toll booths.
As we approached Central Park, all four of us began to feel we were going to collapse from heat exhaustion, dehydration and the extreme need for a loo. As usually happens, that is when none of us could decide anymore what we should do, so instead of stopping for a rest, a drink, or, you know, the loo, we kept on walking. And walking. And walking. Clear through the park! We waved at Donald Trump as we passed by his personal tower (we didn’t actually see him; we waved in case he looked out his window) and debated the wisdom of hiring a horse-drawn carriage, but we kept on walking. Figuring a cab would be too costly and too scary, and that we’d eventually come across a cool refuge, we kept on walking. Marching actually, for desperation had begun to set in. Don’t Manhattanites ever stop for refreshment as they go about their days making money and spending it? We certainly didn’t find any evidence of it that day. I also didn't see any evidence of espionage, but I suppose spies are pretty good at hiding their work. I was a little disappointed because according to the movies spies like New York, but then we were rather preoccupied so it's possible we walked right by a drop or a meet and didn't even know it.
Later that afternoon, not sure how far we were from our final destination, we finally decided to brave the yellow cabs, and to our chagrin discovered we were only five blocks from the church. Do you know,they really do race up to each intersection and slam on their brakes at the red lights? Never mind – by that point we would have paid nearly anything and endured nearly any danger to bring our marathon to an end. At last we had a cool interior, were able to get off our feet, and make use of the facilities. That Church was a place of beauty to us! And ironically it was surrounded by coffee shops and restaurants. Huh. Got to love irony.
Our adventure continued after Mass with a family gathering at a small Polish restaurant in Queens. Getting there involved begging rides from strangers, GPS malfunctions,a four borough tour in rush hour traffic, and several near misses with car doors, bicycle messengers and oblivious delivery trucks, but we got there eventually and had a fabulous time, too.
That turned out to be a late, late night. Poor Serge and Heals were staying in a motel near the airport and had a very early flight the next day, followed by a very long drive back home. Theresa and I stayed with the Sisters, who, it must be said, were very generous and hospitable, but keep very early hours. Needless to say we were not part of their morning routine the next day! But they sent us on our way – once we finally had ourselves together – with a detailed map of the city and a blessing for safe passage back home.
The return trip was almost the best part of the weekend. The countryside was simply beautiful – so idyllic and pastoral. Though I wouldn’t have missed Brother Sebastian’s special day for anything, I also appreciated the road trip and that glorious scenery. Not to mention the Duty Free! I wonder where I'll go next?