Before we left Heathrow we enjoyed observing an American family – not typical American; not typical of anywhere: pregnant mother, father and about 3 little children between the ages of 2 and 4. In their oversized, dressing-up-style clothes the children looked as if the parents had said, “Choose what you want to wear from our wardrobes”. On a previous NY visit we’d seen a notice that said, to our bemusement, Respect the fence. These children didn’t respect fences, ropes, boundaries of any sort. They climbed under, over and on them, ignoring all attempts to divide and marshall the passengers. The parents were indulgent. “I hope they aren’t sitting close to us on the plane,” Steve said. They were, but the whole family was charming. As we were getting off the plane in New York a feisty, American mother, with her immaculately dressed daughter, said to them, “Can you let me off before you? You have about 10 children, whereas I have only one.” We’d been saying to them, “After you. Can we help?”
The West/West divide starts here.
The yellow cab drew up and the doorman carried our cases into the lovely building. In the lift we smugly pressed PH. The familiar smell of books, wood, leather - the indescribable smell – greeted us when we entered the flat. We sighed, laughed and danced with pleasure at being back. The sunlight was streaming into the spacious rooms. We opened the French windows, walked around the roof terrace and breathed in New York.
It was early evening here, about midnight in England. Following Christian’s suggestion we went to a nearby Italian restaurant – Nonna’s - for cheap, quick food then back to our giant bed and to watch NY 1 – a NY news channel followed by the sleep of the jet-lagged. We are so happy to be here.
FRIDAY 2 September
Today was supposedly a quiet, relaxing day but it was our first day back in NY so no chance. Breakfast on the roof garden then we were off. We picked up Village Voice and bought The New York Times and Time Out New York. We walked down to the Lincoln Centre. A large screen was up in the courtyard and hundreds of chairs arranged in rows beyond the fountains. We discovered that there were free screenings of operas from the Met for the next 4 nights. Amazing. These screenings are almost as expensive as the opera tickets themselves in England. Our next few evenings are sorted.
Walked on to The Modern - a posh hotel next to MOMA. Its restaurant overlooks MOMA’s lovely sculpture garden. Had a long, restful, delicious bar lunch then walked a few more blocks to Bryant Park. I love the story of Bryant Park: once a wasteland, home of drug dealers, avoided by everyone. Now it is filled with flowers, trees and people relaxing on the grass. Children play, workers have their lunches, others play chess, read, meet and talk. It has been developed so imaginatively with an Outdoor Reading Room (my inspiration for the one at Ways With Words): classes in juggling, Thi Chi, yoga; a regular piano recital. I think the courtyard at Dartington should be just like this at Ways With Words.
Back to Moma for the free entry on Friday evening. Crowded but partyish. Overheard: Next time I’ll pay the 25 bucks to escape these crowds. We didn’t feel like this; we liked the busyness. It wasn’t as crowded as some exhibitions in London where you pay an entry fee and then can’t get near the art.
We had been told to get to the opera early for free seats so we did. It slowly became very full. Perfect: a balmy evening that remained warm, the lights of Manhattan twinkling around, the swish of the fountains and an unusually egalitarian opera crowd. Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West had dire words (at least in translation) and a mundane plot but sublime singing – and all the excitement of the Met. We clapped as if it were live.
Bed Bed Bed – and a huge one too.
OUR TIME HERE MOVES ON - too quickly
Food Shopping: New York seems expensive. The recession in England has resulted in shops doing loads of offers and reducing prices; it’s almost impossible to buy one of anything in supermarkets. Here I am amazed by the price of a jar of peanut butter or a lb of black grapes (yes – lbs). I probably don’t know where or how to shop.
Television: We have found CNN for our news (though Steve reckoned he got repetitive strain injury pressing the buttons through the channels to find it).
One presenter in an interview: Wow, hey, um, that’s amazing. I just don’t get it.
With straight reporting the presenters gabble at break neck speed as if they are afraid of forgetting.
Not the 10 o’clock news.
Health: When we were here last there was worry about swine flu. Now there’s much measles anxiety. Also many adverts for flu vaccination; it’s that time of year.
Obesity awareness seems to have increased judging by the adverts on how to avoid it.
Am I better informed or made more neurotic? Not sure – but long live the National Health.
Books: The book shelves here tell us so much about their owners. Obviously the titles reveal their politics, interests and concerns but the vast numbers of books in every room suggest a reading way of life. The faded covers and pages of many books indicate the age of the owners and a long, book-filled life. Books talk.
If a Kindle replaced this book-collecting life people would become more anonymous. No longer could you surreptitiously scan the book shelves when you enter a room.
To get just a fraction of this information we’d have to say, “ Can you show me your Kindle?” and probably we wouldn’t feel able to say this. At least the English wouldn’t.
Research: counting numbers on busses and subways reading paperbacks, hardbacks and from E Books. So far hardbacks winning. Encouraging number reading altogether – but why not “read” New York instead of books? That’s what I’m doing.
SUNDAY 4 September
“Shall we have our traditional Sunday?” I asked Steve, feeling smug that we have a regular NY Sunday.
So we set off with our books for Central Park and found a shady bench overlooking the lake. We were distracted at seeing exercising New Yorkers run, cycle, skate board and sweat. Some young black men were doing a show with chanting, jokes, break dancing, acrobatics. Part of it involved leaping over a small child they took from the audience. Then they said, “We need an Asian man.” None volunteered so they picked one out of the audience. “Do you speak English?” they asked. All of this bothered me. Am I being too PC, too up-tight? Can’t help but feel they wouldn’t be happy being asked if they spoke English.
The Great Lawn was full of people picnicking, sun bathing, playing instruments, talking.
We often have brunch in the Boathouse but as we approached we were bombarded with demonstrators with giant blow-up mice, posters, leaflets. We were told not to go there as the kitchen were dirty and the owner a sexual harasser. “ Probably someone with a grudge,” Steve said. We had only one side of the story but we gave the protestors the benefit of the doubt, mainly because we were impressed with their energetic, organized and colourful protest.
We moved on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art – paying 1$ each as an entry fee instead of the suggested 25$. (Our hosts’ rules, but we do agree. High entrance fees don’t encourage a thorough appreciation of art. Instead you try to consume too much on one visit. Also so divisive: museums for the middle classes.)
We went up the elevator to the Sculpture Roof and saw Anthony Caros against the treetops of Central park and the skyscrapers beyond.
Later went to see the film of One Day. Frothy but quite fun.
NEW YORK IS DRIPPY – LITERALLY
After very hot days the rain has come. The television told us to beware of ponding – with good cause. Lots of ponds underfoot.
Drips and Young People on My Head:
On Labor Monday unexpected drips. We were sitting in a very full downtown diner (Peels – sister to Freemans) when water started to fall on my head and food. We politely pointed this out to the receptionist in case someone had left a tap running. “ That’s because of bar-tender error”, she said. They found another table for us and produced buckets. On a nearby table a woman drawled, “What a situation! ”
Upstairs was packed with scantily dressed youth. Any minute the wet ceiling could have collapsed and they might have landed in my grits.
TRACES Off Broadway: Later I had further worries about young people landing on my head. We went to see Traces at Union Square theatre. Off Broadway, neo circus acts. Six fit young men – and one woman – did alarming, daring acrobatics/dancing. We sat just 4 rows back and I was sure they’d land on my head when they flew through the air. Amazing! As Chloe emailed, “ There’s worse ways to go than having gorgeous men fall on your head in New York”. She has a point.
Parks and Places
The parks in New York reveal all that is best about the city. We were in Washington Square Park and a small group of musicians started playing together. Soon a large group – all ages and races – gathered around them to sing, dance shake, bang and join in. “Stand by me,” they bellowed. Such energy and lack of inhibition.
Others were playing chess together. Parks are the solution for the lonely I decided. My new mission in life is to be a park creator – starting in Totnes.
St Pauls: a tiny church next to Ground Zero that was built in the 18th century, and miraculously wasn’t hit on 9/11, is giving free Bach concerts each lunchtime this week to mark the 10 years since the attack. (Bach at One – a title which really amused Steve) We have tried to avoid the 10th anniversary hype (What about the thousands that die every day in other parts of the world? I usually say) but we were very moved and impressed by this tiny church. It had been a place for support for all the distressed after 9/11 and the church had been filled with beds so that firemen and volunteers could go there for a sleep. There were banners and gifts from all over the world. Before the concert they had 2 minutes silence and a short service. There was a great emphasis on taking care of everyone whatever their faith, race, politics, beliefs etc.
The Bach was fantastic too.
Videl and Chloe’s friends, Christian and Emily, live in the Upper West side so came for drinks then we went out to dinner together. Lots of lively discussion on NY life. They were great company. Stopped talking in the early hours and leapt over ponds home to our cosy bed. (Well not really cosy; it is so huge.)
NOT THE ENO
“Why are so many people wearing tee shirts with ENO on?” I thought. Is the English National Opera in New York? Then noticed I’d missread them. Actually they said FNO – Fashion Night Out. One Thursday a year shops focusing on fashion, in Chelsea and Soho particularly, stay open very late, have bands playing, give out free cocktails and food and most importantly for some – discount their clothes. Marquees appear on street corners; I’m not sure why. The streets were packed with young people (mainly) in decorative clothes and dangerous shoes. We milled and drifted around.
While we had a drink in Pastis we watched rows of bikes appear. Each had been decorated by a designer. A man offered one to me to ride around New York. I liked the idea of riding the streets on a bike covered with buttons and lace but the roads were very busy so instead I photographed them.
We found respite from the crowds at the 18th floor, rooftop bar of The Standard. The place was too blingy for us but what views – 360 degrees of the sights of Manhattan, the Hudson river and New Jersey. A jazz band played and we sat on cream leather sofas and marvelled.
The most disconcerting experience was going to the loo. One wall of the small cubicle was plate glass, one mirror. So you could watch yourself having a pee way above the lights of Manhattan. Terrifying – but you definitely were not overlooked.
THE HIGH LINE - is just that. A high walkway created from an old rail line. About a mile and a half walk filled with grasses, flowers, stylish benches and sculptures high above the bustle. NY is all about views.