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 …


Helen of... said...

I hate you!!! I swear, some day I'm moving there.

Gregling said...

You and me both honey! Hope you're well. Kisses. G x