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The size of our dreams?


I have been keeping my eye on the availability of apples, of course, since this project began, and have really enjoyed buying just one of some new specimen for “today’s” snack. The bramley I bought back home in Waitrose was definitely the largest so far, although I didnt get round to measuring it, so it cant be entered into my Big Apple contest. Neither did I get round to actually eating it before we left, ho hum. Here I have picked out some red and shiny beauties. The most unexpected apple so far was one I found this week that was about the size of a gobstopper. The cashier was most bemused when I brought only one to the till to be weighed and paid for; I was not sure if it was going to be worth eating, so I wanted to try it out for flavour, didn’t I?! It was in fact sweet and juicy: just teenyweeny. Small and perfectly formed.

But what is it with the name Big Apple?

The Society for New York City History’s website,, tells me that it was most likely a horseracing journalist from the New York Morning Telegraph in the 1920s, John J. Fitzgerald, who first publicised the term, having heard it from the stable boys who worked around the eastern States. New York, this huge city full of opportunity, was the place of big money: the Big Apple. He called his regular column “Around the Big Apple”. (Go and do likewise, yeah.)

Be that as it may, the name Big Apple was popularised in the jazz scene of New York in the 1930s and ‘40s, when getting a gig in Manhattan was the height of ambition. It seems like our big cities attract dreamers (we know, don’t we, that the streets of London are paved with gold)(..or were?), although you cannot rightly accuse me of the same aspiration: when asked if I had ever fancied living in America, as happened several times while we were preparing to come here, the honest answer always had to be no. But I am delighted to be here; and fully intend to find all the best bits of life in this city so nice they named it twice.

I spent most of the last 4 days managing admin to do with our arrival, with Luca for 2 days and alone for 2 days when he started work at his new office. Bank account, mobile phone contract, social security number, application for a work permit for me, dealing with customs about our boxes that we have shipped with FedEx and that are held up at customs (because some of the paperwork was incomplete/ missing); and, most time-consuming of all, apartment hunting. This bit at least has been such fun! We have been looking in any area in lower Manhattan, from 14th Street southwards, mostly in West Village (hip, artsy, rather niiiiice; perhaps a bit aspirational?) but also East Village (more gritty, noisy, scruffy; and more exciting?) and in the Financial District (less of a neighbourhood feel but plenty of vibrancy too; very close to Luca’s office). For the same money the size can be 50% bigger if the area is less trendy, or if the building sits even just to the side of the fashionable neighbourhood, or is a high rise modern building. But price and size have to be balanced with number of rooms, traffic noise, quality of the decor, and all that stuff. It’s all dead expensive - makes you wince. One we saw today has a most idiosyncratic layout, is at the very top of a 5 storey house (no lift), and has its own generously spacious roof terrace. A true loft apartment. “Shabby chic”, perhaps, with most of the building comfortably shabby, but the inside of the flat itself is newly kitted out with good specification in the kitchen and bathroom, pale wooden floors, plenty of natural light - so let’s call that bit chic. We both really liked it, but would we prefer to live in a something, er, simpler?

Today it was snowing all day and we walked to and fro and round and about and in and out, and it was beautiful and tiring. I like that Manhattan is an island, and a narrow one at that. You can only go so far east or west until you meet water, and that dictates the nature and defines the feel of the place: it doesn’t sprawl endlessly like, say, London. The grid system of road names is also really helpful for gaining familiarity and orientation quickly - so both of us feel we kind of know what is where, more or less, after a very short week. Or at least that we could easily enough find whatever it was.

To end the day, how about some music? We didn’t get to taste the flavour of Big Apple jazz, although we had tried to book a table in a club in West Village. Instead, we sat in the gods at Carnegie Hall and were entranced by the gently swirling music of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. A satisfying day.

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