Have you heard of the freezing temperatures ravaging the US, and especially the East Coast, right now? The past couple of weeks, 90% of the US has been below the freezing point (0 degrees C, 32 degrees F). And the past weekend, New York and other East Coast areas were smacked with howling winds and buried in snow.
Teachers and children were off from school on a two-day “snow day,” and my dad, who never stays home from work, stayed home. That’s how you know it was bad.
I visited New York this winter break unexpectedly – it’s unusual for me to visit twice in one year! – due to a need to spend time with my family after one of our beloved cats passed away from stomach cancer. That has been really sad and hard for all of us, but as he was thirteen he lived a long and full life.
It’s also the first time in four years I’ve been home at Christmastime. That was strange for me because I really love spending the holidays in Czech Republic; I have a lot of traditions and outings with my friends and Czech family (Czamily? I can’t successfully pun this one). I never celebrated Christmas officially until I moved here, so I look forward to it every year, and I missed the essential Czech carp and potato salad (mine made especially without mayonnaise).
Still, I really loved my trip home as brief as it was. I have always been in love with American over-decoration by way of Christmas lights and the cheerful spirit in the brisk winter air. And I got to experience the special kind of culture shock that only comes with the American holiday season.
I tried to capture the Christmas decorations and tree (at the very end of the entrance hall- look just to the right of the middle point of the photo) at the airport; truly, there was a Vánoční atmosféra.
Unlike in March last year when I slept in Prague airport trying to catch a pre-7 am flight to Copenhagen, I stayed at a hostel and took a taxi to the airport at 4 am. (The day started with me spilling hot tea on my driver as he put my suitcase in the trunk; when he jumped and cursed, I thought he had broken his back.) I already love Prague airport because you usually breeze through no matter the time of day, but this early it is really quick getting through security.
After nine hours in the air, I was at JFK airport (thankfully I missed the recent flooding…). Back to the buzz of a super-busy airport, loud shouting, taxis honking outside, cigarette smoke… ah, New York.
The thing that shocked me most, and I don’t understand why it never fails to shock me, is that I had to realize all over again: Wait, everyone speaks English here? So that means everyone understands what I’m saying, and I can understand them?
Back to mornings that start with the smell of coffee wafting through my whole house, opening the blinds in the kitchen to fill it with light, turning on the TV (which I don’t have in CZ), and half-listening to any news program or sitcom that’s on while watching the birds and squirrels flit around my suburban backyard. I have seen squirrels twice in Czech Republic, although I have been told they are not as rare as I believe. They are, however, small and more black and orange than our impressive and fat gray ones.
I visited my high school for the first time in forever! That was really surreal – it looked completely different than I remember. It was like landing on another planet. I couldn’t believe I once walked those halls in another lifetime.
Very importantly, we visited diners, diners and more diners. Tom’s Diner in Carle Place is quite famous in the area and always packed. My mom and I had unlimited coffee refills, pea soup, blueberry pecan pancakes, and a veggie-filled omelette served in a sizzling hot pan.
Also, we had some fudgy chocolate cake from the many options at East Bay Diner:
I visited my favorite Hawaiian-themed supermarket, Trader Joe’s, five thousand times to buy many unique products, and momentarily considered partaking in their ugly sweater contest.
I also pondered the reason why Trader Joe’s is selling 4-pound (1.8kg) chocolate bars that you could murder someone with (most unexpected way to die, ever):
I admired the Christmas decorations, including a trend of outfitting your car with reindeer antlers.
By the way, laser light projectors EVERYWHERE. I was so amazed that Americans have devised another way to waste major amounts of electricity (as pretty as they look). Well, it’s not my money 😛
My dad and I visited Manhattan and admired the Empire State Building (I keep almost writing Eiffel tower; face palm) and admired its evening Christmas theme:
I gobbled up candy cane and egg nog cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery:
I forgot how totally and completely empty it is on Christmas Day!:
And remembered how totally and completely stiflingly unbelievably anxiety-inducingly busy it is in Rockefeller Center on Christmas Day (probably not the wisest of decisions):
I had a lobster lunch with my mom for the first time since I was a little kid, and realized how cool it is to live midway between the greatest city in the world and the Atlantic Ocean:
Also, I have the coolest parents in the world because they go with me to sample craft beer. Probably the strangest experience to bring your parents to this sorta punk sorta metal sorta biker brewery, Barrier Brewing in Oceanside (they sell mainly IPAs and the overall consensus, if you ask my mom, was, “They all taste like grapefruit”).
As you can imagine, it was very dark in there, so our attempt to be photographed with the brewery logo was not exactly successful.
And I rediscovered our American obsession with all things holiday and money the day after Christmas, with this immediate burst of Valentine’s Day commercialism!
Why oh why oh why oh why did I forgot to buy conversational hearts, Hershey’s kisses and candy cane Ghirardelli’s?!?!?!