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We could have chosen a worse time to fly to Halifax. We could have come on December 13, when hundred-mile-an-hour winds were wreaking havoc in Nova Scotia, knocking down towering fir trees and ripping shingles off our carriage house. Instead, we picked the worst time to leave Durham, North Carolina. Soft, wet snow began falling around midnight, followed by freezing rain on the morning we were due to depart. Not exactly conducive to getting to the airport.

We considered booking a hotel in the vicinity, but finally decided to take our chances. I did revise our departure time, insisting that our cab driver show up at 6:15 AM for a 9:15 flight. The appointed time came and went, followed by a flurry of phone calls. It turned out our driver wasn’t lost, but fender benders had turned the route into an obstacle course. Since we were leaving Durham after almost a full year in residence, we were not traveling light. The cabbie came from Africa originally, so we got in with some trepidation, but he immediately informed us that he had lived in Michigan. Not to worry.

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One item in our carry-on may have been unique to our luggage– two hats in an elegant German hat box. One of our serendipitous discoveries in Durham was a first-rate hat store, owned by a classy Cuban. Southerners like hats, and they are willing to invest in them. On the afternoon we wandered into the store, my wife, who is fairly abstemious with her personal wardrobe, emerged with TWO hats, one for spring, one for winter. The purchase of two German hats made the owner’s day, so he threw in the fancy box.

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When we first took an informal inventory at the Stewart House twenty-three years ago, we were delighted to discover a genuine beaver hat, complete with leather box. Peeling stickers indicated that the hat (and its owner) did the grand tour of Europe. It may have belonged to Florence Nunn’s father. Florence was named after his favorite city in Italy. She married Charles Stewart, the great great grandson of Robert Laird, the man who had the “Stewart” house built, circa 1779. They traveled by sea in those days, but it was nice to return a hat box to the old homestead, even if it was in the overhead compartment of an airship.

To say that the Raleigh-Durham airport is a little light on de-icing equipment is something of an understatement. They have exactly two trucks to service every single flight, and it is a busy airport. My flight to Philadelphia was number seven in line for de-icing, so we took off three hours late. Fortunately, the flight to Halifax was delayed an hour and a half.  All’s well that ends well.  And arriving here on the same day was a good ending.

It was a quiet and green Christmas this year, with only one other family member present for the holiday. And our daughter, Stephanie, got on a plane for Vancouver on Christmas morning. Happy New Year. May 2011 bring you all serenity, peace and good fortune. We are living in interesting times, so those may be in short supply. Cheers from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.


I could have called this Old Haunts Two, but one of my wife’s colleagues made me realize that I am a “place” dropper. I don’t know any celebrities, but I tend to drop the names of exotic locations into banal conversations.  I have lived in many different places over the years and at some point I stopped apologizing for my good fortune.

When I moved to New York City in 1987, my wife was already ensconced in an apartment that had none of the attributes New Yorkers find attractive.  At that time, Battery Park City was a “new” neighborhood.  It had been built on landfill from the World Trade Center that had been dumped in the only convenient location, the Hudson River.

It was not chic and it offered little of the City’s charm.  The only grocery store was absolutely atrocious, but the flat was spacious and quiet.   A quiet apartment in the Big Apple is as rare as a cockroach-free bathroom.

She had first spied the apartment building from the top of the World Trade Center.  Much of the development was guided by the Reichmann Brothers of Toronto, who had money and taste, attributes that do not always clump together with that special breed known as developers.  The Reichmanns went on to develop Canary Wharf in London.

The art installations lining the Hudson from the World Financial Center South are well worth a visit, but for me, the crown jewel is the Winter Garden.  It is part of the World Financial Center.  Imagine an Italian piazza covered with glass, sprinkled with full grown palm trees.  When we lived there, a wonderful bookstore called Rizzolis was in the Garden.

The shops have gone downscale since we left, but towering palm trees in a crystal cathedral paved with Italian marble is spectacular.  Unfortunately, the main focus of today’s visitors is the view it offers of Ground Zero, directly across the street.

For the first time since we left New York, we stayed at a hotel in the area.  Our room offered a view similar to the one we had from our old apartment– looking out over the river at the Colgate clock and all the lights of New Jersey.  It was disconcerting to have that panorama again after all these years, framed in a building that was built after we left the City.

We arrived in a deep freeze and I wasn’t prepared for it.  I snapped up some gloves and a hat and started walking.  New York is a wonderful place to walk for the same reason Portland is a good place to bike:  everyone does it.  Even though I lived in lower Manhattan for a year, I had never been inside St Paul’s Chapel.  I ducked in this time, mostly to get warm, and I was charmed by the unpretentious interior of the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan.  It was completed in 1766.

I could not have come at a better moment.  A choir from St. Alban’s College, a South African boy’s school, had just arrived at the Chapel for their very first concert on a multi-city tour of North America.  With my back to George Washington’s pew, I settled in for some foot-stomping African music on a cold December day. The harmony of the beautiful young voices filled the room, putting a sonorous stake through the heart of apartheid.  They seemed to be having a fine time as well.

The New Thing in New York is the High Line.  It was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan’s largest industrial district. The entire project was 13 miles long, eliminating 105 street-level railroad crossings, and adding 32 acres to Riverside Park. It costs over $150 million in 1930 dollars—more than $2 billion today.

The High Line opened to trains in 1934. It ran from 34th Street to St. John’s Park Terminal at Spring Street. It was designed to go through the center of blocks, rather than over the avenue, connecting directly to factories and warehouses.  The trains rolled right inside buildings. Milk, meat, produce, and raw and manufactured goods could come and go without causing traffic jams at street-level.

In the 1950’s interstate trucking began to take a toll on train traffic throughout the country.  The last train ran in 1980, pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.  Local real estate developers were all for demolition, but in the mid 80’s, Peter Obletz, a Chelsea resident, activist, and railroad enthusiast, challenged demolition efforts in court.  He wanted to revive the railroad but that was no longer on the table.

Friends of the High Line was founded in 1999 by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the High Line neighborhood.  They began to advocate for the High Line’s preservation and reuse as public open space.  To say their efforts to save and preserve the line have been successful would be something of an understatement.

The Meat Packing District and Chelsea have been transformed into happening places. The buzz is amazing. It is New York’s new new thing.

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