Saturday, 23 May 2009

Day Four in New York: “Move it you bitches or I’m gonna call immigration and shake this fuckin’ place up!” (Head trannie at Lucky Cheng’s restaurant)

Sunday. Joff and I have planned to spend the day apart then meet up at the hotel later, change for dinner and trade New York stories. I head out armed with sunglasses, camera and most importantly my pre-prepared New York City Streets playlist on my new dinky Creative Zen. The songs are not necessarily New York in origin, most have been chosen to give one the essential oomph needed for pacing the streets, so we get ‘Sir Duke’, ‘Into The Groove’, ‘Decepticon’, ‘He’s On The Phone’, ‘I’m Coming Out’, ‘Queen Bitch', ‘Don‘t Stop Till You Get Enough' …

It is hot out. Have I mentioned that? Phew. I head down to Greenwich Village and sit in Washington Square Park where a fantastic swing band are in full, er, swing. It is a quintessential New York scene, the music is straight out of a Woody Allen movie, women are dancing, everyone applauds. The band leader introduces the players in turn then says, “But the most important member of the band is Philip - Philip the bag” and so everyone throws money into his guitar bag.

I leave the park and put my headphones back on and right away ‘Everybody Dance’ by Chic comes on and I get a lump in my throat, it‘s my favourite Chic song by a city mile and one of my favourite songs period. (Yes, I said ‘period'). I walk the length of Bleecker Street to it, including past the legendary Bitter End, stop on a shady stoop for a dollar slice of pizza which I could happily live off, then walk the length of Christopher Street in my tarty vest and get thoroughly sunburned for my troubles. Christopher Street takes you all the way to the
Christopher Street Pier which is chocablock with ripped shirtless men as well as little kids with their fingers stuck together with melting ice lollies running in between them. The breeze off the Hudson River is like being kissed all over. I sit on the boards and Ryan Adam’s ‘New York, New York’ comes on. Second lump in the throat.

Then I start walking walking walking, it’s my absolute favourite thing to do in New York, besides drink Martinis. If I could do both simultaneously I’d be made up. From Christopher Street I walk all the way (via ‘All The Young Dudes’ and Soulwax on Seventh Avenue, powered by Starbucks, I never go there at home) to the Rockefeller Centre at 50th Street. For $20 dollars I take the speedy lift up to a breath-taking glass-fronted viewing platform, ‘Top Of The Rock’, on the 70th floor. The views, to my mind, are superior to the Empire State because you can look at the Empire State itself. I would go again at sunset to watch the shadow stretch to Queens, it is my new ambition.

Central Park on the other side is speckled with the white dots of thousands of people basking in the sunshine. You can see for miles, the whole of New York. I feel momentarily sad there’s nobody to gasp at it all with. No matter. I take the most amazing photographs from every direction, and then the memory stick in my camera crashes. Seriously. It explains the dearth of good pictures on the blog. Sob. I really don’t want to talk about it. It’s with the manufacturer now. My hopes aren’t high. I sink into a bit of a sulk but drag myself out of it because I am missing the holiday. A page in my New York notebook says ‘I am writing this on top of the Rockefeller Centre!’. I stayed chipper.

Back on Fifth I see a group of models waiting for a photo shoot with the most amazing sculpted hairdos, all of them smoking like navvies while a gaggle of make-up and wardrobe queens flutter at their edges, preening. They are very young and so skinny and they look rich and famous and ill and completely Bret Easton Ellis. Fabulous. I get a cheese pretzel (ha, models! carbs!) and head to 238 East 72nd Street. For those in the know it’s the outside location for Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment building on Sex and the City. It actually looks not quite right when I get there and it turns out they’ve used a few different locations for filming. In any case I am a bit giddy. Here is me sitting on the stoop:

“You can drive down this street all you want, because I don’t live here any more!”

Time is ticking so I decide to walk all the way back downtown along a single avenue, in this case Second. I watch the neighbourhoods change a few blocks at a time. Frighteningly young couples leave very swish apartment blocks with minuscule dogs (New Yorker’s are so into teeny rat dogs) and I feel an utter financial failure. I happen upon my favourite New York picture of the week so far though as the Empire State makes a sudden unexpected appearance over an otherwise non-descript street. Imagine seeing this every day …

My shoulders look like two quarters of Edam by the time I get back to the hotel. I am bright red. Joff actually screams when he sees me. I am badly burned but in a surprisingly small amount of pain. We change and head further downtown to
Lucky Cheng’s (First Avenue at First and Second). It‘' a Chinese restaurant staffed entirely by drag queens, mostly Chinese and Japanese. It’s not for the faint-hearted. I am one of those people who seriously lives in mortal fear of crowd participation and they are on me like a rat up a glittery drainpipe. There is a mike in my face before I’ve even sipped my first cherry martini …
“Oh we have a couple of handsome boys over here. What are your names sweetie?”

“Greg and Jonathan.”

“I love your accent, where are you from honey?”

“But you have such nice teeth!”

Cue laughter. Fortunately I can’t get any redder because of my chronic sunburn.
“Whereabouts in England?”
“Oh, say it again!”


And so on.

Food eventually gets ordered somehow while various overdone and fabulous trannies stalk the restaurant abusing all and sundry. It’s hysterical. A large party of fierce black girls dressed to the nines hog the main table in the centre awaiting the arrival of the birthday girl.
“She’s black and it’s her birthday? We’re gonna be waitin’ all fuckin’ night. If that girl rolls in in sweats and sneakers I’m gonna fuckin’ slap the bitch!”
The birthday girl is Star, she arrives looking amazing with her friend Shanaynay (seriously) and they get straight up on the stage and speed bogle for the cheering crowd with their two inch Teflon nail attachments waving about while various drag queens speed around the room with steaming Chinese entrées, all the while hurling racial epithets at one another’s overdone faces.

I assume my moment of shame is over. Oh no no no. I’m to be the recipient of a lap dance in a mortifyingly slutty competition. I am coupled with a very nice Park Avenue-ish lady, who seems clean-living but is currently fairly liquored up, lucky for her. The first couple are up and the girl dances like a seasoned whore and I am already terrified but can’t stop laughing. I take the chair as my lady warns me “I’m wearing a tight skirt and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do."
“It’s alright, I’m gay, we’re onto a winner.”

She bumps and grinds for two minutes and we come a triumphant last. I neck my next Martini like it’s luke warm tea.

We haemorrhage money into the place, eat our desserts, and are eventually kissed goodbye by our gorgeous waitress ‘London’. I fall about laughing in the street when I read the receipt which says that we were served by ‘Jap Bitch A’.
I’ll always love you New York.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Day Three in New York: “Oh my god, I want to shave all my hair off!” (Long-haired girl stepping into the sunshine on Third Avenue)

A little lie-in after last night’s boozing and we wake up starving so we (literally) hotfoot it to the famous Ess-a Bagel where the bagels are made fresh right there and the queue is indicative of how amazing they are. I have an onion flavoured bagel with vegetables and walnut and scallion cream cheese with a vat of gorgeous coffee. I’m officially smoking in New York so I’m perpetually wired on caffeine or nicotine or both, it’s the perfect kind of fractious energy to negotiate our sticky way down Second Avenue where I make an appointment to have a little something done later in the day …

I have a hundred dollar splurge at Urban Outfitters which is ten times better than the one at home. They’re playing Morrissey on the stereo which is drenched with significance. Eventually we’ve slummed it enough down the Lower East Side so we decide to go upmarket and cab it to Chelsea. I change into my new shorts in the back of the cab which inevitably stops at the traffic lights as soon as I’m down to my boxers.

In Chelsea we get a table in the shade at a nice little bistro and drink iced tea and lager and read the Village Voice. They have tiny little free cakes on the table with jam to go on top, it’s all just so civilised. We picked a good day for Chelsea, Eighth Avenue is closed off to traffic and there’s a huge outdoor market running for several blocks jammed with food, live music, cheap clothes and beautiful men. I buy a twelve dollar hat that may or may not suit me but which prevents my head from overheating.

When we’ve done the market we walk to the neighbouring Meatpacking District, a small, sexy, industrialised area by the water which is no longer up and coming but has up and come. Boutique hotels and swish bars share pavement space with BEST VEAL and PORK BEEF LAMB outlets in that cheek-by-jowl way that New York does so well. It’s gentrification with iron doors and meat hooks, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney are here, things move fast in New York.

We stop for another beer, Dutch courage for my little procedure, which in the end goes off without a hitch. I feel fantastic afterwards. Home, shower and change, then, once the sun has mercifully gone down, a cool walk down the Bowery, through Soho and into Little Italy which is teeming with people and life and the feeling that we are in just the right place. We eat at Il Cortile, one of the seemingly last Italian restaurants surviving the crush from Chinatown and NoLiTa which are elbowing into the neighbourhood. Little Italy marks its turf proudly though with beautiful lights in the colours of the Italian flag the length and breadth of the streets.

We decide to head back to Chelsea for drinks but we do the bars in the wrong order. Rush turns out to be a club so is too quiet when we get there early. The music is dire, the boys aren’t a patch on the East Village set, and people are dancing in shorts and flip-flops (!!??). No. So, despite the $20 dollar cover charge we've already paid, we head to Barracuda which is much more fun and sexy. We get embroiled in some kind of drunken bar dare where Joff has to swap shirts with someone and I have to give someone my phone number, which I fake of course (I give them Joff’s). I seem to be able to get very drunk on two drinks in this heat, it’s fantastic. Then we go to another bar. It’s busy. In fact it’s the busiest bar I’ve ever been to in my life. It’s hot. There’s a pool table in the back. The toilets are tiny. We are literally cheek by jowl with the other punters so everyone can hear our English accents as we complain about the schvitzing like a pair of old bobes. Neither of us can remember what the place was called. Mists of time now love, mists of time …

Thursday, 7 May 2009

My lost journalism career ...

I just had to Google myself. I don't make a habit of it, it was actually for a survey, honest. Anyway a few of my old online journo pieces came up which I thought were forever lost.

Here is my interview with Sharin from The Raveonettes who was lovely and who played a storming gig that night. I'm going to listen to them right now in fact.

Here is my review of Black Box Recorder's Passionoia. It seems I gave this 6 out of 10. I'd quite like to hear it again. I manage to mention Speultura in the review. Wow.

Here is when I went to see The White Stripes at the Apollo. It felt like we used to see this band every six months or so. I liked them.

Here is my review of Cedric Klapisch's Auberge Espanole.
Seems I wasn't convinced. I was just back from Barcelona though, how nice.

Still slogging my guts out, writing for bubkis, nothing changes ...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Shake it up white boy!

Look at the state of that. This is my combined and Spotify listening. Could there be any more anaemic limp-wristed white boys in there? Thank God for Ella Fitzgerald. I'm thoroughly ashamed. Course this isn't ALL I listen to, on my CD player and youtube it's nothing but Larry Levan, Stevie Wonder, Kate Bush and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I'm a disgrace.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

V V Brown - 'Shark In The Water'

V V Brown - Shark In The Water

I love it. It's a proper chart single isn't it? The video's surprisingly meh though. What does she want with that H&M whiteboy mannequin anyway?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Day Two in New York: "My Dad didn’t pay two hundred thousand dollars for me to be a bartender" (Student, Central Park)

Awoken by a cacophony of birdsong, right here in lower Manhattan, who’da thunk it? I don’t hear so much as a pigeon back home. The promised heatwave has begun. Today is Friday and it's already scorching. Saturday and Sunday are going to get hotter. Overheard conversations are frequently about soaring temperatures to come, the hottest April for fifty years, the city is braced. It’s exciting. I think about '77 and the Summer of Sam. I hope there are blackouts and dancing in the streets and looting.

Breakfast at the Gramercy Diner, staffed by polite Mexicans with impenetrable accents. Broccoli and gruyere omelette with home fries and sufficient coffee to stimulate a mastodon back to life. Our neighbourhood borders the East Village, Gramercy and Flatiron district. We are going to ‘do’ Midtown today, including braving the shops, so we walk uptown and soon the Chrysler Building cranes a beautiful silver neck into the skyline (“You can’t leave New York! You’re the Chrysler Building, the Chrysler Building would be all wrong in a vineyard”). It was the tallest building in the city for one whole year back in 1930 and is many a New Yorker’s favourite. In glorious sunshine you see exactly why (“You'll stay up till this dump shines like the top of the Chrysler Building!")

The Flatiron wends its impossible way into the sky at 23rd Street, the sheer unlikeness of its famously narrow corner making it seem even higher than it actually is. The park opposite is beautiful, fountained, scattered with blossom and people taking respite from the heat. But not us, we plough onwards to the Empire State Building, once again the tallest building in New York, reclaiming its title with a touch of sadness of course. It is the building where Allen Ginsberg worked on trite advertising campaigns (including the Ipana toothpaste campaign, the one they sing in Grease at the sleepover) before his poetry brought him to the life of the Beats downtown, that William Burroughs likened to a giant syringe, whose shadow at sunset stretches all the way to Queens. I write postcards for my grandparents at the foot of it where you can no longer even see the top.

Macy’s is the biggest store in the world, one entire block, of which we cover about 3 per cent. I buy some nice aftershave called Nautica and procure a Macy’s bag which I flaunt like a tourist all day. Times Square is a fat seductive slice of capitalist flash, even in the midday sun, and is rammed. We stop at a mercifully air-conditioned Irish bar on 7th Avenue and are served by a lovely Irish girl who came to New York for a shopping trip six months ago and is still there. I’m so jealous I can hardly breathe.

On Fifth Avenue we have the most hilarious shopping experience of our lives at Abercrombie & Fitch. The doorway houses a gaggle of wide-eyed girls standing in line to have their photograph taken with an impossibly chiselled shirtless model who’s all of nineteen. Inside the store it’s pitch black with the loudest music I've heard outside of a club. All the assistants, boys and girls, are dressed identically. They stand at the top of each staircase dancing. They don’t know where anything is or how much anything costs, they couldn’t care less, they just dance the whole time. We’re delirious. Everyone is beautiful. There is still a feeling in New York that the prettiest boys and girls from across America make their way here to tend bar and sell jeans while they’re waiting for their dreams to happen. They’re all working at A&F.

Central Park is the only place to be in this weather so we head there and find a nice spot by the carousel which plays, amongst other things, ‘Georgy Girl’, one of my favourite songs of all time, which I take, like many things over the week, to be a sign. We eat more sickly but addictive deep fried cashews plus Oreo ice lollies which are divine. I earwig people, watch ripped joggers, horses and carts, a young couple having wedding pictures taken. It’s soon time to head home and change for the theatre. We swing by Barney’s en route, pick up a hat that costs $125, leave.

The Shubert Theatre is a lovely old-time playhouse near Times Square. The play is Noel Coward’s endearingly naff Blithe Spirit in which Angela Lansbury is a spritely old canary in the role of eccentric psychic Madame Acarti. Rupert Everett fluffs half a dozen lines, hams the comedy and plays to the cheap seats while the cheap seats strain to spot his fabled facelift. His second wife Ruth (Jayne Atkinson) carries it for me. A pair of rich English sisters in the seats beside me kvetch at the audience laughing in the ‘wrong places’ but from what I can gather half the audience can only make out less than half the clipped cut-glass English and speedily-delivered dialogue anyway. Good fun though.

To the Ava Lounge at the Dream Hotel. Unbelievably I recognise someone from a cruise we went on last year while we’re crossing Broadway though I’m too stunned to say anything to him. He very obviously recognised me too. His twin brother tried to seduce me and then my sister on consecutive nights on the ship so not really sure what my conversation starter would have been, but how small the world.

In the bar I have an apple Martini and Joff a (very) spicy Mojito. We’re here for the view which is a ball-shrinking vista of Times Square, now in full fluorescent flow. ‘Oh my God I’m in New York,’ I keep thinking. I get the first compliment of the week on my accent. “You’re all kinds of fabulous!” says a girl I give a cigarette to. Instantly drunk we decide to take our glad rags down to Greenwich Village. Our journey takes us by Grand Central Station and Radio City Music Hall. I love Old New York and these are my sights.

The historic Stonewall bar has apparently been refurbished to properly honour its part in the gay lib movement and to bring it up to date for a younger generation. As far as I can tell this amounts to a buff guy dancing on stage with his massive whanger barely covered by a crocheted cock pouch while men and women alike stuff dollar bills down there. Gay pride! Over the road at The Monster we have a nice chat to the doorman, who lives on 14th Street the lucky blighter. Another massively eye-watering whang episode in the basement plus typical handbaggy tunes. Slight yawn. Disappointing totty too. I am hit on by a goggle-eyed Cuban from New Jersey and it’s time for home. The pair of us fall asleep in the cab, the driver mishears ‘East 17th’ for ‘East 70th’ and we wake up at 42nd Street. Oops. I’m drunk enough to dispute the fare. I’m getting into my stride.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Day One in New York: “Jesus Christ, this guy's a fucking idiot!” (Cab driver)

Up at the crack of dawn for a 9 am flight to Newark. I’m pretty much over my fear of flying these days but I still hate take-offs. I can’t just disappear into my book/music because I think that if I don’t concentrate fully on our ascent the plane won’t take off at all and we’ll crash right there on the tarmac.

A surprisingly good choice of movies and music to be had on the plane once we are flying. I watch All About Eve, one of my all-time favourites, howling at endlessly good one-liners:

“Write me a play about a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband”

“She looks like she might burn down a plantation”

“You’re maudlin and full of self-pity. You’re magnificent”

“A mass of music and fire, that’s me. An old kazoo and some sparklers”

Followed this with Singin’ In The Rain which always warms my heart even though it’s utter fromage, but classic fromage you'll agree. Relax then to a soundtrack of Billie Holliday, John Coltrane and Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. I get goosebumps during ‘Living for the City’:

“New York. Just like I pictured it. Skyscrapers and every-thang …”

Almost there now …

Extortionate cab ride from the airport to Manhattan which soon hoves into view from New Jersey like a great battleship in the window. The cab driver says “Welcome to New York” the second we hit the island then effs and blinds his way through the streets and warns us that a heatwave is on the way. As soon as we pull up outside Hotel 17 on East 17th I recognise the street from Manhattan Murder Mystery, the building next door has a distinctive row of colourful statues of jockeys along the front. The excitement stuns Joff and I into partial silence for a while, which is unheard of.

After we book in we hit the streets and do a long walk all the way downtown. It’s a gorgeous sunny day as we make our way on foot through the East Village, Chinatown, Lower East Side and down onto Wall Street. Skyscrapers fill the sky here and I get that lovely feeling I recall from my last visit where there’s nowhere else in the world you could be. It’s a work day on Wall Street but the stars-and-stripes-draped Stock Exchange building seems eerily silent given the turmoil they must currently be experiencing inside.

The nicer building is 23 Wall Street over the way, the old JP Morgan building. Filthy capitalists have such nice architecture. SATC geeks like myself will spot that the subway outside is where Carrie appears from when she rings the Stock Exchange opening bell. Apart from the whole money thing George Washington was inaugurated right on this corner at the Federal Hall, the first inauguration in US history, when New York was the capital city. There’s a statue to commemorate it.

We begin a week-long junk food odyssey with a bag of intensely sweet deep-fried nuts. Beer is required so we drop into a TGI, hopefully to cruise lunchtime suits, but are refused Budweisers because we have no ID. Thereafter we have the anxiety of bringing our passports out with us day and night.

Ground Zero proves quite literally to be “the horror of nothing to see”. This Freud/Irigaray phrase pops into my head as we’re looking into the construction site with its devastating lack of progress. The eerily burned building fronts I saw there in 2003 are gone and it’s harder than ever to imagine all the bloody horrors that befell this district. A sort of unlovely brass frieze commemorates the poor firefighters who died that day but the letters, photos, flowers and candles placed by ordinary people are extremely touching. A card left for a milestone birthday missed brings a lump to my throat.

We catch the free Staten Island Ferry there and back for the amazing views it affords of the return to Manhattan and the downtown skyline. I brave very strong winds off the river to stand out on deck all the way back. With the sun bouncing off glassy towers and the Statue of Liberty keeping her dignified watch and all the thoughts of immigrants and hope and so forth, I find it all really moving. I wish I was amongst it all, all of the time. I wish that the boat was bringing me home.

The Bridge Café is supposedly the oldest bar in the whole of Manhattan, now a posh little restaurant. It’s seated right in the shadow of the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. We eat gorgeous food there, even wine served without ID. We stay till it’s dark and, nicely soused and drowsy, walk over the bridge itself to the halfway point between Manhattan and Brooklyn. This is the first major wow, even the nondescript office buildings and apartment blocks of Battery Park City are palaces of light at night. New York is such a night time city, I haven’t seen anything so beautiful. The sky teems with so many helicopters and planes you can’t imagine how there is room for them all. Cyclists and skaters whizz by and seem immune to the splendour but even they must occasionally stop and revel in it all. Here is the only place on Earth where you can travel in a plane that's over a helicopter that's over a pedestrian that's over a car that's over a boat. This is New York.

We limp to the nearest subway for a quick journey home. I cannot wait to wake up here …