May Madness

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May has been an exceptionally busy month here at Book Snob HQ. At the start of the month, I turned 32 in Cape Cod, where I went for a sadly all too flying visit to celebrate a dear friend’s wedding. I flew into a balmy New York at midnight, having caught a plane straight after work, and hopped in a cab to my friends’ apartment in Brooklyn; it was my first time back in the city for three years, and it was a joy to suddenly be thrust back into the pulse of the hustle and bustle of New York at night, though not such a joy to be reminded of how erratic the driving can be on its roads! I crawled into bed and woke up to a boiling hot day, during which I had a few hours to myself before my friends and I were due to drive up to Rhode Island. Despite feeling exhausted, I dragged myself out into the city, where my first port of call was Strand Books. I have to say I was a little disappointed, as I didn’t find much and I felt that the second hand book selection has definitely deteriorated since my last visit, but obviously I still managed to pick up a couple of treats – The Education of Harriet Hatfield by May Sarton, an author I can never find in the UK, and a lovely vintage edition of Edith Wharton’s short stories. I then went and shopped until I dropped on Fifth Avenue before deciding it was really too hot for my delicate English constitution to stay out any longer, so I went back to Brooklyn and sat on the waterfront, admiring the view across to lower Manhattan as I ate my lunch. After a little rest at my friends’ apartment, I went downtown to catch the PATH to my old neighbourhood, Newport, in New Jersey, where we were picking up our hire car (for those new to the blog, I used to live in Manhattan and New Jersey many moons ago!). I hadn’t yet seen the new World Trade Center; the whole time I lived in New York the area was a building site, and it was still just foundations the last time I visited. It was quite chilling and moving to see what has risen from the ashes, and I think the area is a beautiful tribute. Quite disconcertingly, however, the new shopping centre beneath the complex is a Westfield, which is the brand behind the two largest shopping centres in London, and all the shops in it are British, which made me feel like I’d wandered into a strange alternate universe!

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After meeting my friends and picking up our hire car, we drove up to our hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, with me sitting in the back and loving the view of the night skyline of New York as we made our way out and up into the beautiful wilds of New England. After a good night’s sleep, we got up to explore the very pretty capital of Rhode Island, which is full of stunning nineteenth century clapboard houses, and is dominated by the stately red brick campus of Brown University. I was beside myself at the quaintness of it all, especially as the trees were out in a glorious display of pink and white blossom, adding even more charm to the scenery. We filled up on a proper American breakfast and wandered through the streets of East Providence before hopping back in the car and continuing our journey to the Cape. At lunchtime we arrived at Chatham lighthouse, where we met up with my dearest university friend Emma and her boyfriend, who had also come over for the wedding, and we all had a marvellous time catching up and walking down the stunning stretch of white sand. It felt like an absolute dream to be by the sea with friends I so rarely get to see all at the same time, as we all now live in different countries, and I could hardly contain my happiness! My joy only increased as we reached our beautiful nineteenth century clapboard guesthouse, The Inn at the Oaks, which has an enormous porch and a firepit; two house accessories I deem necessary for a truly fulfilling life! We chilled out by the firepit with some wine before heading into the nearby town for the rehearsal dinner. I hadn’t seen the bride-to-be in the flesh for three long years, so it was emotional to see her and such a wonderful evening, surrounded by old friends from my university and New York days.

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The delights continued the next day; we went to see Nauset lighthouse, whose quintessential red and white stripes were like something out of a storybook, and then on to Provincetown for a delicious beachside lunch and a wander in and out of the lovely shops, and magnificent library that contains a full size whaling ship! The weather was glorious and the day couldn’t have been more perfect; nothing could be better than relaxing in beautiful surroundings with the best of friends. We then had to hurry back to get ready for the wedding, which was an evening Quaker ceremony in a lovely nineteenth century inn. It was a beautiful service, and we spent a magical evening gathered around the firepit outside the inn, catching up with old friends and making new ones, as the stars came out overhead. It was truly a night I will never forget.

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The next day we drove all the way back to New York, and as it was my birthday, I got to choose what we did in the evening when we arrived back in Brooklyn. I chose takeaway pizza from a local joint, and then going for a walk to my favourite ice cream parlour, Ample Hills, which does the best ice cream in the world (in my opinion). I loved walking  through the beautiful brownstone lined streets of Park Slope as dusk settled, and I felt so lucky to be able to spend my birthday with some of my favourite people in a city that will always feel like home. I had to fly back to London the following day, so I had hardly any time to truly enjoy it, but I had enough to get a top-up of the city that will keep me going for a while!

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Almost as soon as I got back, I had to go again – this time on a rather less glamorous school trip to Yorkshire for a week that I planned with my lovely colleague. We wanted to take the kids to Bronte country, and that we did. Our schedule took in Chatsworth, Haworth Parsonage and Haworth village, Salts Mill at Saltaire and the Bradford Industrial Museum, and the country’s only remaining workhouse at Southwell in Nottinghamshire. The sun shone for us, and it was such a joy to share some of my favourite places with my kids, many of whom haven’t ventured far outside of London. I loved being back at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontë sisters, which never fails to delight and move me, and the countryside around Haworth truly takes my breath away every time I see it. The rolling fields were studded with tiny lambs and everywhere was vibrantly verdant; truly a balm for the soul. Salts Mill at Saltaire was a first for me, and I absolutely loved it; part of a UNESCO world heritage site, it is the centre of a village built by entrepreneur Titus Salt in the mid nineteenth century to house his mill workers. He was known for his benevolence and sincere desire to better the lives of the poor, and his mill nowadays has become a wonderful community centre, fitting to be his legacy. It is the UK’s permanent gallery of David Hockney’s marvellous art, as well as being filled with fantastic shops and restaurants. The book shop on the second floor sold a good number of Persephone Books, which was a joy to see, and I could have easily spent all day there browsing!

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Alongside all of this travelling, I’ve also been attempting to write my MA dissertation, and manage the renovation of the flat I’ve bought and should hopefully be moving into this summer. It’s all go – and as such, I’ve barely read anything outside of dissertation material. I’m hoping next month will give me a bit more time to breathe!

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21 comments

    1. Ha! I LIVED in New York a shocking 8 years ago – can you believe that?! I was 24 when I came out…! I spent my first 6 months living in Hoboken before moving to Harlem – we’d definitely met when I lived in Hoboken! I last visited the US I think three years ago but it might have been longer…actually maybe it was 4 years – I don’t remember! I would have arranged to meet you but as I only had a few hours in the city I thought it would be too tricky to arrange. But I’ll be back soon! xx

      1. I know we met early on when you were here and working up in Westchester but I have totally forgotten about New Jersey. I’m old LOL. But I can make it into the City to see you assuming Lew does not due anything dramatic. I’ll send you a private email soon. xoxo PS I so wish I could get back to the Cape one day. Imagine it in high summer! xoxo

    1. Thank you – I’m sort of enjoying the research but I think I’ll definitely feel more enthusiastic once I’m on holiday for the summer and can fully devote myself to it. I can’t wait to finish now!

  1. Hi What an interesting and enjoyable blog! I have visited the US a lot but never been to New England, would love to go, maybe next year? You sound incredibly busy, I miss your blogging but I can quite understand why you’ve less time! Salts Mill, one of my favourite places in Yorkshire, as well as Betty’s , obviously! Jenny

    1. Thanks very much Jenny! Oh, New England is wonderful. I can’t recommend it highly enough. If I’d had more time I would have rented a car and gone properly up into Maine and Vermont, which are on my huge to-do list of places to see. In the Autumn is best as the trees are so amazingly bright. Oh yes, I LOVE Bettys…I think probably my Yorkshire top 3 would be Haworth, then Bettys, then yes, probably Salts Mill! If I hadn’t had all the kids with me I would have gone for a walk around Saltaire, too – it looks like there’s so much to see. Next time!

      1. You must get to Maine, like I must get to Scotland. We spent 2 weeks out of every summer there for about 10 years. The light there is amazing and you’ll want to paint a picture even if you never did before. xo Ellen

  2. Very happy belated birthday, dear Rachel!
    Your life sounds so exciting right now. Dissertation, a flat of your own, such lovely trips…
    Thanks for sharing those pretty photos of your trip to the colonies ;-). What a perfect time of the year to visit.
    “Harriet Hatfield” is almost my favourite Sarton, a real comfort book I get from my shelves whenever I need a bit of escapism. Even if she’s struggling and failing, but I just love the beginning. A booklover’s dream!

    1. Thanks so much Martina! Exciting yes, stressful too – I’ll be glad when life calms down a little! Oh that’s so good to hear – I can’t wait to get reading. I’m storing up a lovely pile of books for when my dissertation is finally finished!

  3. Happy belated birthday — it sounds like you had a fabulous whirlwind trip back to the US. It’s too bad about The Strand, I haven’t been in a while but I’ve always managed to find something there. I don’t know May Sarton but I love Edith Wharton so anything vintage by her would be a find. If I get back to New England I want to drive to the Berkshires and visit her home, The Mount, which is in western Massachusetts. And your trip to Rhode Island sounds just lovely, what a perfect wedding!

    1. Thanks so much Karen! Yes I’d love to go to The Mount too – one day! I need to do a proper road trip all around New England – there’s still so much to see and I’ve only scratched the surface!

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