For a child growing up in 1970’s England, New York was a revelation. It was shiny, glamorous, attractively packaged. And there was so much choice. Take the cereal. In London we had cornflakes, ginourmous boxes of weetabix from the cash and carry (actually the individually packaged biscuits were quite cool, but weetabix for months on end, not) or porridge with golden syrup as a very special treat. Coco Pops were still a twinkle in a cereal designer’s eye.
On our first trip to New York, my brother and I were taken to the local ‘market’ D’Agostino to choose our cereal. They had Apple Jacks, Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms. The boxes were brightly coloured, with cartoon characters promising treats like bright green apple bits or pink and blue marshmallows. They were intensely sweet, with flavours not available in nature. It was mind blowing.
Everything about New York seemed different. In London, we lived in a terraced house, but in New York we stayed in an apartment, with a shiny, woodpanelled lift with buttons to press, a cosy Bounce-fragranced basement laundry room and a roof garden up in the clouds (well, the 17th floor) and the aptly named ‘white cloud’ loo paper was soft and luxurious. The cable television had a dizzying array of channels, some just for children, can you imagine that? Forget Mr Ben after lunch followed by an afternoon of racing from Kempton.
Outside people in glossy fur coats walked their tiny dogs on wide pavements, made for strolling. The sirens weren’t a comforting nee naw, nee naw like at home, they sounded more urgent, scarier, as if they were rushing to a real disaster, not to rescue a cat up a tree. Even the weather was dramatic. In London we mostly had a little bit cold or a little bit warm, with rain every so often. In New York you had t-shirt weather one day and a thrilling foot of snow the next.
All cities have a unique smell, and New York was no different, with carts vending ‘franks’ and pretzels, airconditioning and heating units blasting out alternate gusts of cold and hot air with a strange chemical odour, cinnamon flavoured everything, squishy leather seats in the yellow taxis, and the seductive sweet, chocolatey smell wafting out of David’s Cookies. A whole shop that just sold cookies.
The New York of my childhood no longer exists and if it did, the gloss would be a little tarnished. These days I eat real apples for my breakfast, not apple flavour crunchy bits, and those fur coats, which seemed so glamorous to an impressionable nine year old, are less than appealing. But I still wish I could go back.
This post was inspired by Josie’s writing workshop at Sleep is for the Weak. She asked “What do you miss?”