From Bethesda to White Plains
Living in Bethesda, Maryland since 1971, a small suburban town about nine miles from downtown Washington D.C., we have become quite provincial. Our son, Asif, recently took up his new job in White Plains, New York State. We had not visited New York in a quarter of a century. So when we went to see our grandchildren and assist their parents to look for a house, it was like rediscovering that part of the North-East USA. What little we saw this time was more than our expectations in terms of the beauty and serenity of the region.
The three-hour train journey by Amtrak from Washington's Union Station to New York's Penn Station was smooth and very comfortable. To go to White Plains, where our son found temporary accommodation, we went to the Grand Central Station, world's largest train station with 44 platforms, to catch a commuter train. The main concourse hall of the station was not only 'grand' in name, it was in fact gigantic in size, covered with marble everywhere on the floor and walls and with a blue astronomical ceiling. It was indeed splendid and awe inspiring. The terminal's 12,000 square foot Vanderbilt Hall was named after the Vanderbilt family who had built the original structure on the spot. It holds many exhibitions and fairs. Considering that it was built during1904-13, one is struck by the vision of grandeur of those who built a railway station of such magnificence. In the1990s, the Grand Central was restored to its original 1913 splendour at a cost of $425 million.
The train to White Plains leaves Grand Central every thirty minutes or so and it takes about that long to reach White Plains, which is neither white nor plain. The buildings were reddish in colour, mostly red sandstone or granite and the wide sidewalks had red brick paving and road crossings. There were thousands of young green trees on the roadsides, which gave a very pleasant surrounding as we drove by. The modern town is small with a European touch. Sidewalk cafes abound and people have a carefree and friendly attitude. Many large corporations and businesses have their headquarters in White Plains. The small town of thirty-thousand, swells in the day to a population of about three-hundred thousand. House prices are prohibitive here.
The house search, therefore, took us to nearby towns of Greenwich, Stamford, Westport and Fairfield, all in the state of Connecticut. These and a few other smaller towns are the abode of many people who work in New York or White Plains. Although at some distance from work, housing is comparatively more affordable, children's educational facilities good and living in fine small communities very pleasant. Greenwich roads and shops appeared very English. It was obviously inhabited by prosperous and professional people. We drove through the North Avenue, which might have been two mile long, with large mansions on three-acre plots on both sides of the road. Stamford was also a nice town. A wonderful network of the commuter train system, connecting these towns with each other and with New York and Boston, run on time and quite frequently. The trains make even the long journeys pleasant and much less tiring than driving.
It was the month of August, the roads were marvelous and tree-lined, often with green dividers and flowering Crepe Myrtles, which were red, mauve and white in colour. Since the schools were closed, the roads had much less traffic. The townships were well maintained, and though quite close to New York City, were able to keep their small rural- town charm. We had a feeling that the Montgomery County in which we live, and the next-door Northern Virginia, would be greener and more beautiful compared to anything close to New York City. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see such greenery and flowers in these counties. House prices and property taxes are very high even in these towns.
Finally, a house was found in Fairfield, which had a good elementary school and public library nearby. The Atlantic Ocean was only about fifteen minutes from the house and one could smell the sea air. Another attractive feature was the closeness of a large natural lake at a distance of less than a mile. Everything was ideal, but the travel to office in White Plains takes about an hour by car and using the train instead, is inconvenient. The builder of the house, Mr. Grasso, is a warm and friendly person. He is of Italian origin and lives just across the street- so does his eldest son, also a builder. They generously offered help, particularly during the settling in period. Fairfield had another dimension- a literary heritage. Author Tom Sawyer, writer of “Huckleberry Finn” and “Joan of Arc”, lived in the Fairfield/Redding area. There is a writers' consortium here. Fairfield is a haven for writers as the area is very conducive to thinking and reflecting on life's experiences
Shezan, our eldest grandson, is due to go to primary school this year, having reached the age of five. Fortunately, the Jennings Elementary was not only close, it was also a good school, being a Magnet School for math and science. It was the long summer holidays and we had only a preview of the school. It was due to open after a month, but Shezan was excited about it. We visited the lake. With the backdrop of a hilly area covered by thick greenery and large trees, it looked like the lake was formed in a depression with water flowing into it from the hills and nearby areas. I was surprised to see a sandy beach beside the lake I believe it was man made. A large play and swimming area for children and picnic facilities made the place family-friendly.
For grandparents, the most important attraction in their retired life is the company of grandchildren. To amuse the little ones and be amused by them is a heavenly pleasure. For us, Fairfield, Connecticut has opened up many possibilities for enjoyable visits and touring of the nearby areas.
Azizul Jalil writes from Washington.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006