Getting to New York
The flight we were told would take around eight hours. I mused on the fact that eight hours is a whole working day. Nothing wrong with musing I thought as I fiddled with the hopelessly optimistic ‘What to do in case of a crash’ card, I can muse all I please; I have another seven hours 58 minutes to kill. I was bored already. Time passes and my mind drifted further. Inexplicably it kept bringing up my early twenties when I spent a long period on the dole. I kept shooing the thought away. Those days were not good days. Not good days at all.
I recalled making sporadic attempts at gaining employment although much of my ‘working day’ was spent sitting in a horrid chair watching crap videos and eating rubbish food. It then struck me. ‘Of course’ I piped aloud. ‘Long haul flights are just like being on the dole. The chair, the vids, the ghastly food! It’s all here!’ So that was it. My helpful subconscious was saying ‘Look you dumb sap! You’ve been here before and got through it! So sit down, watch the Sci-Fi and eat the swill, I’ll see you at JFK when you get to go back to work’. I then settled in feeling much better. The only musing thereafter was the confusion of why my subconscious now had a Brooklyn accent.
Writing about New York
What can I say about this? What can I add? Far too many writers, far better than me have said it already. And what they left out Woody Allen has put it into film. Not much wriggle room but I will have a go. Let’s be honest, I have no experience whatsoever of this country aside from a lifetime of digested music, film and TV. So that it’s then I was completely green. I wondered how it will all compare to the real New York?
From getting out at JFK airport it’s about a 40 minute journey to the hotel downtown. I made a point to note my first impression. And to be honest looking at the oddly familiar grey brown silhouette climbing over the horizon set in a rather leaden sky I couldn’t help being a mite intimidated. It felt remote and a bit unforgiving and even more oddly, uninhabited. London from a distance does not give that impression at all. It looks like it is paved with gold, that bit of cruel Cockney trickery has been going on for a millennium or more, the reality is very different as many a crushed London fortune hunter has discovered over the centuries. Peter Ackroyd said ‘London accepts everyone but loves no one’ which is a pretty fair description. No such illusions about this place. This city means business. New York lies in wait?
Getting about Before visiting I was told getting around New York is easy. It’s simple. The Avenues go North South, the streets East, West and they are all numbered so it’s impossible to get lost.
This is of course rubbish because remembering numbers is far trickier than remembering names. Roads that are at right angles to each other all look the same and most people don’t know the difference between East and West. A recipe for disaster to the unfamiliar.
It was not just me either who got confused as the street corners are littered with people squinting and scratching their heads in confusion, huddling together to figure out where the hell they are. I spoke to a lady from Chicago who said she had been visiting twice a year for ten years and she still gets lost. Give me the medieval spaghetti of Sienna any day of the week.
New York does however have the saving grace of elderly people who rescue you and usher you in the right direction again. These old dears often treat you to a small family history lesson too, of distant, dark times, thrown out of far off countries and building businesses up from nothing in ‘The Lower East Side’. I love these chance encounters of historic tales and gossip, New Yorkers enjoy sharing their life stories with passers-by. A hint to their Irish and Italian lineage maybe?
Skyscrapers Yes, they do loom over you, dominating the midtown and downtown sky right up to the neon lit heavens, from the pompous, giant and clumsy Trump Tower to the sublime, steely, gleaming beauty of the Chrysler building. This elegant midtown Art Deco angel proving that biggest is by no means the best.
The Chrysler building
The four Seasons restaurant
Also worth a mention is the cool, smoky, 50’s monolith of the Seagram building on Park Avenue. ‘The four Seasons restaurant” occupies ground floor. Here Mark Rothko was commissioned to paint for a huge sum of money a series of paintings for the walls of this up market eatery.
Rothko however was a painter who spent most of his time working downtown in his Bowery studio. The Bowery is very shi shi now, but then?
And food? All Rothko really ate were takeaways from the local Chinese restaurants. It was hardly the best partnership and it wasn’t long before the cracks began to show. On visiting ‘The Four Seasons’ Rothko commented that he would paint ‘Something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room.’ Though that would never happen as Rothko, ever more sickened with the place refused to deliver his finished paintings and returned the deposit. They now reside in the Tate Britain London – and wonderful they are too.
I decided to see ‘The Four Seasons’ for myself and It has to be said it is a masterpiece of elegance. The high walls are up-lit and are entirely of dark oak veneer with wire lighting dripping out of the ceiling. Splendid, even I could feel like James Bond in here.
I approached one of the owners and asked about Rothko-Gate. He waved his arms theatrically and remarked. ‘It’s far too dark for Rothko in here. It never would have worked’. He then sauntered off to what appeared to be the more obviously affluent clientele. Hmmm still touchy about the rejection eh?
Ok time for a drink. Not being a Vodka-Martini man I decided to have a gin and tonic. It was a perfect Gin and Tonic too. It had to be as it was four times the price as any other Gin and tonic I have ever had in my life. Nursing my mortgaged drink I sank back into a wrap-around leather sofa and people-watched. Yes they were all here. The Mrs Robinsons with The Gordon Gekko’s. The New Money with The Old Money, and the liberal peppering of pretty young Russian women with no one in particular! I wonder what Rothko would have said about that?