The 500km trip takes...eleven hours. Seventy-five to ninety minutes are spent parked at the border while customs inspectors board to check passports. Nearly all the rest is spent rolling through spectacular scenery, from Lake Champlain through the Adirondack Mountains to the dramatic Hudson River Valley. The train travels so close to lakes and rivers that I felt I'd be splashed if the windows opened.
I loved the leg room, the views, time to read, nap or chat. Always a fan of rail travel, the slow roll scratched my train itch; the only thing I disliked was the food choice in the café car, so we picknicked on the way home. The fare, $120/person return, was a quarter of a plane ticket.
(It's one of my regrets that I never made the trip on the now-discontinued overnight train; apparently it was a wild party, a congenial salon, a romantic romp, or sometimes all three.)
Boarding at about 9:30 am. in Montréal, we arrived in Penn Station around 8:30 pm., just in time for dinner. (The NYC-Montréal leg departs and arrives about an hour earlier.)
In transit, I could pick out every Montréaler by their long scarves, wrapped at the neck.
Once in New York, I tried to winnow tourists from locals and parse differences. The teeming streets enable looking without overt ogling. When the population of a small town is standing at a traffic light, there's lots to consider.
In the five years since my last visit, I noticed a few changes:
1. Way more cyclists, which leads to...
2. More women wearing pants, outnumbering skirts by about 3:1. Pants are mostly bike-friendly dark.
3. Sticker shock for "artisanal" or handcrafted items, from cookies to pendants, perhaps due to insanely high rents.
4. Where tourists go, brands follow, which is why Chanel and St. Laurent are in Soho. Brand saturation drains the lifeblood from a neighbourhood's character.
Clothes haven't changed much in years: pencil skirts, narrow pants, blazers. There is more East Coast conservatism in NYC than in Montréal. Many are still switching into sneakers for the trek home.
Looking fresh: cropped jeans or pants and heels with a tailored shirt and great belt, often studded or embossed. At Rag and Bone, this orange double-buckle stood out; price is about $215; also available at Sak's.
Coloured denim downtown, indigo uptown. White denim micro-shorts on young, trim women and a few who are not, but go for it anyway.
I didn't see a single female in a hat (a hazard in the subway), perhaps because I was there during the work week. Many women are carrying totes in addition to their handbags, one bag per shoulder, which makes them look like bikes with loaded panniers. "Little dresses"–the shirtdress or shift–are charming on young Peggy Olsens; impeccable skirted suits still inhabit Wall St.
A woman in a classic suit, but made of coral-striped seersucker embroidered with tiny mint-green dots on the jacket only, and accented with jade-green low heels, made me smile, and she knew why.
4. Big chunky bracelets and necklaces in resin or plastic: metal has taken summer vacation!
I dropped by any number of indy jewelry boutiques in Greenwich Village, Soho and Gramercy Park, but found much overpriced and overdesigned, compared to cool and casual items like this $35 lucite spike bracelet by Adia Kibur:
At breakfast one morning, I admired my neighbour's elegant, modern watch, which I noticed as she leafed through the paper, waiting to start a business meeting. She told me it was by Balenciaga, the Acier, in gold-tone mesh. (Good. I wouldn't walk around any large city in an eye-catching gold watch.)
|Balenciaga "Acier" in gold tone|
Sizing up the boutiques, the scene largely sorted into two camps: either preppy-punchy retro Tory (Burch) or super-skinny hip Isabel (Marant).
|C. Wonder sleeveless shirtdress, $128 at cwonder.com|
The glut of disposible fashion (Uniqulo, C. Wonder, Zara, Club Monaco) melted into a jangly bright blur. I stayed away from those as well as the temples of luxury (Bergdorf's, Hermès, etc.) which would no doubt deliver strict, beautiful clothes.
This was not a shopping trip, but one boutique, Maraym Nassir Zadeh, pulled me in magnetically when I saw Carven's skirt, quirky and surprisingly wearable. Too short, and at $490, not an impulse purchase! I was happy to learn the shop has an online option.
There is a third genre in NYC, found on mainly 50+ women: the flowy Eileen Fisher/Japanesey look, some of it appealing and a good deal, dull. What reads serene and refined in the store, where all the assistants looked like yoga teachers and addressed me with gentle good will, does not translate perfectly to the street.
This ensemble by Nu (at Yaso, in Soho) could work... or not. I saw a woman trying things; she wasn't distinguishing between loose and too big. The sales staff proffered vague smiles and that infuriating question, "What do you think?" Where is Stacey London when you need her?
It takes a good eye for proportion, plus some jewelry, to pull this off without looking like you were recently expelled from a monastery.
Home again, we found that chère Christine, taking her own holiday with a friend, had left our apartment in better condition than she found it (what a perfect guest!); the only thing missing was the chance to see her.