New York for a while

New York is Groucho Marx, Blondie, Dog Day Afternoon, JD Salinger’s Glass family, Mark Rothko, Run-DMC, Sesame Street, Nora Ephron, the Guggenheim, Easter Parade (but let’s ignore The Band Wagon), early Madonna, The Royal Tenenbaums, Annie Hall (yes I don’t like him either but), Cynthia Heimel, The Cosby Show (again, problematic), Diane Arbus, 30 Rock, Cyndi Lauper, The Wiz, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankenweiler, The Rock-Steady Crew, 42nd Street, Vampire Weekend, Pi, Ronnie Spector, Working Girl, Dorothy Parker, The Hudsucker Proxy, Cary Grant in the UN Building in North by Northwest,  Bonfire of the Vanities, The House of Mirth, Philip Glass, and fine, also Andy Warhol and the Ramones, and Keith Haring and Studio 54 (I’d never have gone, I would’ve been terrified), and also – oh God, all right – When Harry Met Sally, to pick an incomplete list of variable quality and coolness. Jogging in Central Park. Ordinary people looking like demigods in Harlem. Sour pickles and knishes and rugelach, whatever they would turn out to be. A Greek shipping heiress asking Joan Didion ‘on the second day of a paralysing New York blizzard’ if it was snowing outside. Community gardens. There is no city I want to be my friend more.

We were there for eleven days, and we walked and walked and walked. I have blisters on the bottom of my toes. I would move there tomorrow, except their winter terrifies me. And their summer. And it’s too late for me to learn new sports to watch: we spent four hours in Yankee Stadium and I still haven’t a clue what happened. I wanted to make note of a few tiny observations while I remembered them:

  • New York is aggressive, you hear, people don’t suffer fools gladly, no one has time. Well maybe, but I think that London is a more hostile place to be now. The day we got back we went to a gig in Hammersmith and while queueing outside saw an argument between 3 men in their early 20s/late teens and a ticket tout which made free use of the c-word over a distance of 20 metres or so. Standard, I thought, I’m back in London then.
  • Also against this stereotype: by God people are chatty. I saw passers-by chatting with construction workers, policemen, shop assistants in a way that just would not happen here. In Central Park I witnessed a couple of dog-walkers proceed from their pets sniffing each other’s bums to a conversation about Trump and whether the boomer generation had been adequately taught Black history in about five minutes.
  • We stayed in Harlem & I’d recommend it: good restaurants, bars, transport etc, but the gentrification and tourism pressures are like many places becoming really obvious and we had at least one slighly tricky conversation to prove it.
  • Young women I overheard in passing seem to use the word ‘fuck’ with about the frequency that I do and it made me feel at home.
  • Please please slow down the hoppiness arms race of American craft beer. All right, this is not specifically NYC, but some of us just want a lovely pint of beer without worrying that it’ll turn out to taste like lightly-fermented stomach acid.
  • Sure, the portions are huge but then order an English Breakfast here when not ravenous and see how you get on. We ate a LOT though.
  • The NYC subway mixture of unbearably hot stations and air-conditioned trains is a slight improvement on London’s temperate stations and unbearably hot trains.
  • Beyond obvious, but: the diversity of New York is exactly what a city should be. In the wake of Brexit, I want to write a song or embroider a banner about how much better things are when we are open to different cultures. New York is openness.
  • Which makes me feel like I should say: we were in the city (unaware, trying to get back from Brooklyn while all the trains were cancelled and we had no idea why) when a bomb went off in Chelsea. It was not easy to detect much change in people afterwards.
  • Ah the exhibitions we saw: I’m so so glad that we were in town for Diane Arbus at the Met Breuer but also I loved Harry Bertoia (I’d never heard of him) at the Museum of Art and Design, But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise at the Guggenheim and Roz Chast at the Museum of the City of New York. This last came as a surprise as if anything I’d have said I was inclined to skip the Chast cartoons in the New Yorker, but taken together her anxieties and eccentricities were weirdly winning. On the downside: Guggenheim rotunda closed for a rehang (and we really couldn’t be bothered to queue for two hours to see their current star exhibit), MoMA’s photography galleries also closed. Such is international artsing about.
  • A small wistful irony occurred to me when we were walking round the lifeless moneyed converted warehouses of TriBeCa: every witless developer in London went through a phase of offering ‘Manhattan-style lofts’. The streets were empty, the businesses were being refurbished, there wasn’t a place to sit down and have a coffee, the idea of people in general seemed to have been forgotten. New York showed us the way.
  • The High Line is lovely, yes, but I wish it were still a little wilder, and I bear it a grudge for its part in inspiring the Garden Bridge.
  • Always book into the least fussy day spa you can find on day 6 of an 11 day city holiday.

If you’re interested (other people’s holiday snaps! I know!) there are some unlabelled and disorganised pictures I took here.


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