It used to be said that New York was where the future came to rehearse. But that edginess has been overridden by the highlights of global aspiration. Whether caused by Mayor Giuliani the Tidier or by the imperatives of the new century, this city now seems to be where the most polished of the present resides.
Day 1. We arrive jet shocked at 2.30am but are up and out before lunch. Walk walk walk…past Rockefeller, down the Avenue of the Americas and to MOMA. What pleasure to see the old faves on the fifth floor…1880 to 1940, Cezanne Dali Kahlo Matisse Monet Picasso van Gogh.
It was in this gallery that the penny first dropped for me about painting; that’s why I think I overinflated the whole shebang here. The collection post 1940 seemed less capturing this time. Maybe it is the curating, maybe the 2004 renovations are too grand for the collection.
Dinner at Osteria al Doge just over the road from the apartment. Good Italian despite being so close to the ever moving crush of Times Square.
Day 2. Walk walk walk uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 82nd. For me the collection far overshadows MOMA. My faves are the Impressionists. Am I a conservative romantic at heart? Then there are the galleries of Roman, Greek, Middle Eastern antiquities while the Friends of Iran haven’t been too shabby in their donations either. Rich friends of the old Shah I presume.
I could spend a month in this museum.
A walk thought the pleasures of Central Park and I drop briefly into Saks. The loos are on the same floor as the shoes. Wow! extremity, opulence, fashion victimisation all come to play here. Some of the fashion names that seem to have lopsidedly penertrated the culture are represented in the most ridiculous, extravagant collection of shoes to be beheld. Only great wealth and weird values tarry here. Why in a sane world would I have heard of Jimmy Choo?
This night we see Clybourne Park at the Walter Kerr Theatre. It’s a sharp, satirical look at changing race relations in the USA across two decades. It was good and must have touched a an American nerve given the standing ovation.
Day 3. Walk walk walk down 44th to Battery Park with a few meanders along the way. Twice when I ask directions I am told, “You should take the bus”. Sure it was 30 degrees but? Was it my age, the heat or just the New York way?
One meander was to Century 21. My memory from 1998 was that It was a great warehouse with racks overstocked often with designer clothes at amazing prices. Now it seems to be a tawdry department store chain. Ah America, where enterprise is rewarded.
The streets are alive with images.
After trying online for a few weeks and then being told by the concierge that one would have to kill to get tickets…I walk to where the Book of Mormon is on and manage to get 2 good ones. Why am I going to a musical? Just because it was written by the people who wrote South Park? Just because it won this year’s Tony award? Just because I’ve never done it before? Have to see a Broadway musical before you die?
Anyway an excellent Marguerita at the Blue Bar of the Algonquin is one way to celebrate. A strong one too. The famous old haunt of many from Faulkner to Dorothy Parker and Hemingway (who seemed to haunt so many places it is a wonder he had time to write) is now a refurbished shadow of its grand days … A few days later I see a tour group emerge.
Just enough tele to see the Republican campaign excerpts. This county cannot be so silly as to support this man who looks like a charactature of a TV evangelist.
The ferry to the Staten Island is free. Imagine. Mostly tourists though.
Day 4 . Walk walk walk. First I call into the NY Democratic campaign headquarters on Broadway. At this stage it looks like early days in the office of a State candidate at home. A very young bearded man is giving a training session to 8 people. I am reminded of the Greens.
Down to Chelsea to the fabulous refurbishment that is now the Chelsea Markets with a 6/10 lunch at the recommended Spice Market….perhaps Pastis on the next corner would have been better but it looked a bit Woolhara. Not surprising since the whole area had a Paddington air especially the gentrification of the Meatpackers district with the very smart small new craft markets.
Then up onto the aerial walkway ..the elevated greened old railway tracks which are packed with walkers or loungers on the smart wooden benches. Just another example of the lack of civic imagination in Sydney.
That night we see Old Jews telling Jokes At the Westside Theatre. The jokes were so good I bought the CD:
CNN interviewer, ” Mr Goldberg for 50 years you have prayed here at the wailing wall every day. What do you pray for?” Mr Goldberg, “I pray for world peace, for Arabs and Jews to be brothers, to an end to this Israel problem.” Interviewer, “So how do you feel after 50 years?” “Like I am banging my head against a wall every day”. Most of the other jokes were about sex. mothers and marriage.
Day 5. First to Grand Central to find the Apple shop that has entombed itself in this iconic building. Fix the problem but another memory has been shot. The old Oyster Bar I first went to in the 80’s where row upon row of tiered shell fish were on display for the selecting is now a tame red checked tableclothed claustrophobic cafe. Oh well! Apologies to all those I pointed in that direction.
Ferry to Brooklyn for the Sunday flea market.Wow, such quality product.
Sophie and I have many talks over the weeks about how the sheer population density can produce so much that is better than we can experience at home. The best of the best is so much better here. Be it the craft at markets, or the art, or the streetscape and urban spaces; perhaps not the best of the restaurants. The monumental architecture and the treasured streetscape scale add to the sense of the grand. The vibrant and seemingly easy multiculturism also adds to this sense of a society that has arrived. But we see only glimpses of a many layered Manhattan.
We walk through Williamsburg with its boutiques and bars and what a pleasure to see Toby’s Estate coffee shop.
This was the small boy who grew up over the road playing with my kids. I felt proud of you Tobes and am I remembering right?
Jay knocked out your tooth. Hey, it was only a milk one.
Anyway home through the rocking Brazilian masses celebrating their national day. That night we see the new Batman movie..a bit freaky seeing Gotham under attack and then walking home at midnight through the same stage set.
Day 6. Shop till you drop. It is worth it. Jeans that cost $250 in Sydney are less than$100 here with the tax break. So I buy 4 pairs. Good shoes on sale for $30 although you could pay $3000 at Saks. Food is half the price.
Sophie is out that night so I take myself to the John Dory Oyster Bar on the corner of Broadway and 29th in the Ace hotel. The first pleasure here is the George Washington cocktail – ginger, lemon, egg white,hard cider and applejack. It tastes so good and must be good for you. So I have two.
And the food…first whelk and then chorizo stuffed cuttlefish and toffee date pudding to finish. Yum.
The Ace hotel is an experience in itself. A design based place where it becomes a private club at night with cutting edge art on display. When I wander through a few dozen hipsters are playing with their laptops at long tables in the dark lobby. Tonight is comedy night I’m told.
This place is a creation of the time – techno and organised happenings. I wonder if it is the Chelsea Hotel of the new century.
On the box it’s all Obamarama tonight in readiness for tomorrow’s democratic convention. Much more palatable than the other. MSNBC seems to be a fan. It becomes the only watchable channel.
Day 7. Today the Frick. The Turner ports (Cologne and Dieppe) are wonderful and their light seems to infuse me. I want to breathe it in. There is a Memling portrait of a man whom I could have once become obsessed with. But many of the old Masters whilst objectively fine, don’t ring any bells except the obvious historical appreciation.
It is a Grand House. Frick bought the Fragonard room in its entirety from the JP Morgan estate. What a tradition of benevolence these Americans have. And how bloody rich on the backs of others they became. Nonetheless Gina and her ilk could learn a lot about giving.
I go to Central Station where Apple has colonised an entire wing. There is light drizzle going in at 5.20pm; half an hour later a guy is trundling a trolley selling umbrellas. Ah American enterprise!
Tomorrow night Maria Carey is singing at Rockefeller Plaza for the start of the NFL season so there is a half a kilometre of huge equipment trucks along 48th.
In my street and they are filming “Person of Interest” (for TV) just down the block. The rain isn’t helping either. Here on 44th we have the Harvard Club, the revamped Algonquin and the New York Bar Association. Hard to see why any person of interest would be here in 2012 but I rubberneck to see a crane drop a dummy from the Bar Association building. There must be 50 crew for the single shot.
To night is the Democratic convention. Michelle Obama is a class act.
Day 8. Enough of midtown and uptown, we walk walk walk down to the lower east and then across to the Village. How things have changed here. Boutiques abound and I remember when I found Washington Square scary. Now on Prince near Mercer I can see Louis Vuitton, Mont Blanc and Calvin Klein stores.
Lunch at Katz’s deli. Matzo soup, pastrami on rye in the packed, blissfully unglossed old deli. A sense of what the New York of a few iterations ago would have been like. But the table where Sally had her pretend orgasm for Harry has brought in the tourist hordes.
Dinner is at a Zagat rated 93% modern American seafood, Oceana. Posh but half as good (and half as expensive) as an Australian equivalent, say The Pier in its heyday.
Day 9. The train to another icon, Coney Island. The subway is a kaleidoscope of life in this town. Opposite are a young mum with a stroller, a Hasidic Jew, an African American guy in full sports outfit, an old Asian man, a tough looking presumed Brooklyner and a young well dressed WASPish woman. The trains are sparkling clean with no graffiti.
Coney Island is a sad sight but perhaps ever thus when a fun park is empty. Four separate fenced fun parks are fringed by a wide boardwalk and then a huge expanse of dirty sand to a flat dull sea. We walk out on the pier and chat to the fishermen.
Thursday night…time for the musical. It is an absurd fantasy about Mormon boys in Uganda. The entire audience rises to a standing ovation. What is it with these guys?
Day 10 Walk walk walk downtown again. This time we lunch at the chic tapas restaurant, Casa Mono, near Union Square. The blackened beets with summer beans, goat’s cheese and mixed granola win the day; then on to the Farmer’s Market in the Square. After casing the lower west, finding a rare good cup of coffee and missing Robert de Nero in TriBeCa, I call in on Kate and the dear new 4 week old in Soho.
How lucky to be living here. She points me to the Hudson Parkway which runs alongside the river from top to bottom. We tarry there watching football in a revamped industrial building, people jogging and sunning. Again, where is my city’s corresponding civic imagination?
Sophie is having another night with friends and wild horses won’t keep me from going back to the whelks at the John Dory Oyster Bar. I drink their take on the mojhito, the Lonsdale Mojhito. It has mint, lime, white rum, cachaca and soda and Gill, it is far far better than those many sugar infested cheap rum ones in Cuba.
Back up Broadway where half the road has been turned into garden and cycle way for 15 blocks and yet we complain about a small bit of Sydney being taken from cars!
Again I pause and watch the constant crowd buzzing good naturedly Batman, the Naked Cowboy, Grover, Sponge Bob Squarepants and others. Frustrated actors spruik every show in town. It’s always party time here.
Day 12 What a great farewell gift. The Labor Day parade. It goes on and on. Three hours of marchers, some of whom started below our windows at 7 am. Surprisingly few teachers, firemen and health workers and no police union. But the blue collars are out in force. The Harley riders from the Electrical Trades and the Teamsters make my day.
The only sad note is when a barman tells us Obama hasn’t a hope in hell.
Sad also to leave a great time in a great city.