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A Hudson Valley Transplant on the Pros and Cons of Country Living

Photo courtesy of Philip Orchards

Welsh writer Jaci Stephen reflects on the good, the bad, and the unusual aspects of living in the Hudson Valley countryside.

London. Paris. Los Angeles. New York. Beacon. Who would have thought it? Having always lived in large cities, I find myself transported to a small one that, a year ago, I didn’t even know existed. I have become a country bumpkin.

While the word ‘bumpkin’ today implies a stupid person, it was originally the name that the English had for the Dutch, whom they portrayed as small, comic, and tubby which, despite my being from Wales, is kind of accurate. Although I lost weight during lockdown, I have a round middle, I am 5 feet tall, and I have been told I am very comic (although maybe they mean it in the sense of being laughed at).

I’m not very good being surrounded by greenery; even the lettuce section in a supermarket has me running for cover. I crave late nights, meeting people from out of town, and having a wide choice of food, drink, and ambience.

Coronavirus and subsequent lockdown changed all that, so I started to look for an escape Upstate — an area I did not know well, having visited Beacon just three times.

I haven’t taken to wearing dungarees, chewing on straw, and belting out Tammy Wynette numbers just yet, but here are my thoughts so far.

1. There are no single, successful, heterosexual men looking for a Dutch-like, small, comic, and tubby woman of a certain age, just as there were none in London, Paris, Los Angeles, or NYC. I am fast running out of countries.

2. Why would I go apple picking? There is a thing called a supermarket, where they have fruit for you, thereby allowing you more time to spend at the local bar. Picking apples takes a lot of effort: peeling, getting the maggots out, coring them. A ring-pull on a lager can is as much work as I ever want to put into an evening.

3. I am the All You Can Eat Buffet for every insect.

4. There are no 24-hour stores in which to buy a pint of milk for my essential morning cup of tea. It is quicker to find a cow and pull on its udders than wait for Key Foods to open.

5. Everyone knows who you are and where you came from within a week. “Oh, you’re British Jaci,” I get in tones that might mean “Great to meet you,” or “So you’re the nut job we’ve heard about.”

 6. People are breathtakingly nice — so much so, that I think they must be bag snatchers, warming me up for the big SWAG descent. After just one visit to my local wonderful Italian, Brothers Trattoria, I was greeted like a long lost relative, “Jaci! My friend!” And even though neither brother is Italian, I greet them with the enthusiasm of Don Corleone after a successful hitjob.

 7. Everyone’s a damned hiker. I have no interest in the prospect of being trapped on a mountainside drinking my own urine until rescue services arrive.

 8. Alcohol in my local wine shop is close on double the price of what I pay in NYC. But, I believe in supporting local businesses, and Artisan Wine Shop really knows their stuff. On my first visit they must have thought all their Christmases had come at once. The number of boxes in my apartment also made it look as if all my Christmases had come at once. All 61 of them.

My head may still be in the city, but I’m fast discovering that, at heart, I may be a country bumpkin after all.

Jaci Stephen is a Welsh broadcaster, writer, and columnist for the UK’s Daily Mail. Read more at jacistephen.com and @welshjaci on Instagram and Twitter.

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