Friday, 15 May 2009

The time in England is now

In New York I stayed at an excellent guest house called the Sutton Residence, run by a bloke called Bruce. I would recommend it; it wasn't cheap in terms of anywhere else in the world but New York is very expensive, so it was good value.

Quite late in the day a friend of mine decided to join me in New York because she had a few days of unexpected leave, which was great, because she's much better at doing interesting things than I am. If she hadn't been there I expect I would have spent almost all my time in museums. We rendezvoused on the viewing platform of 30Rock, 850 feet above street level, just to be a bit dramatic. Here's the view north, over Central Park.

Here's a list of all the things we did, more for my own future reference than because I think it's likely to make interesting reading:

1. We went to the Corner Bar in Greenwich Village, because a friend of mine's boyfriend said they have the best burgers in the world. The burgers were very good, but I'm not sure how far you can really take a burger.

2. We went on a three-hour boat trip all around the island. The commentator didn't really help with the general feeling of unreality by his refusal to distinguish between fact and fiction, and his invocation of imagination for both of them. One minute he'd be telling us just where the north tower used to stand, and how we had to picture them both there twice as high as any extant building, and then he'd be pointing out the tram-lines where Spiderman saved all those children in 2007; the Yankee stadium was famous for Babe Ruth doing something impressive in the 50s, but also as the workplace of George Costanza. Actually Fiona didn't have a problem with this, but I found it wierd.

3. We ate s'mores at a place where you toast your own marshmallows at the table. Mine kept catching fire.

4. We ate at Tomoe Sushi back in the West Village, which was very good and not too expensive, and very satisfying because we got the last free table and when we left there was a long queue down the street.

5. We went to two diners for breakfast, both of which were good. The Lexington Candy Shop, which isn't actually a candy shop, was very nice, but with a no refills policy. It's not far from the Met. The other one was the Comfort Diner, which was a bit less well-lit. Fiona tried grits and biscuits. They are not pleasant. The difference between us is that she wants to try things out, sometimes with bad results like the turnip juice in Istanbul, while I just asked for my eggs sunny-side-up (or British style as they also call it) with bacon, and politely refused the maple syrup.

6. We went to the Met. It's the sort of place where you see things and think "I didn't know that was here", like the Damien Hirst shark. There were some fantastic Fayyum mummy portraits:

and a wierd thing like a huge growth of metal roots on the fifth-floor terrace, overlooking Central Park.

7. Then we split up because I wanted to see the Cloisters and Fiona had been there before. Also I don't think she could quite see why I would go all the way across the Atlantic and then go and look at medieval bits and pieces given that I live in Europe. I have to admit she has a point; she lives in Rome, a stone's throw from the Pantheon, but even in Cambridge I don't really need to go out of my way to see Romanesque architecture. I found it a tad underwhelming of itself; the cool thing is being able to look out through medieval French arches down to the Hudson river. I suppose it's the equivalent of the old Getty in L.A., a replica of the Villa of the Papyri on a hill overlooking the Pacific. But the old Getty has some really amazing things in it. In the meantime Fiona crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and did something else interesting, I forget what.

8. Then we tried to go to a thing called the Secret Science Club (not that secret given that it was in Time Out). It was at 7th St and 2nd Ave, and we looked for it for ages before realising that it was 7th St in Brooklyn. Heigh ho. While looking we saw Alphabet City, which has shouting drunks in it, and which I preferred to the West Village. Instead we ate fondue at a place called the Bourgeois Pig, which was OK; they ID'd us which made Fiona happy, but made me think that they thought we were too scruffy. The place was lit like a brothel; I spent ages trying to find the lights in the loo before realising they were already on, which made me feel very old.

9. Then we went to an East Village comedy night run by Seth Herzog, called Sweet. His mother did the DJing but couldn't work the ipod, so introduced many of the acts by singing show tunes from her youth. There was also a bit where she told us how to get mildew off a shower curtain. It was quite funny. I can't remember the name of the people except for Ben Lerman, who sang songs about gay sex accompanying himself on a ukelele. Here's his blog entry about that night. He doesn't mention chatting to Fiona.

10. And we ate cheesecake at Katz's Diner ("Send a Salami to your Boy in the Army"). It was quite good.

11. Also I had a bagel at Ess-a-Bagel, which is in the finals of Best Bagel in New York. It was a tad disappointing because although it was good I have had better bagels in London. It's probably more a matter of getting them really fresh than anything.

12. We hired bikes and rode around Central Park. On the plus side it's such a huge place -- 850 acres, when the island is only 2 miles by 7 -- that a bicycle is handy, but on the other hand there's tons of places where you're not allowed to cycle. I would have preferred to wander around more relaxedly, I think. Plus it wasn't cheap.

13. We had some good pizza at Naples 45; it claimed to be authentic Neapolitan but really wasn't -- it was more in a crispy Roman style. It was ranked one of the top ten American pizzas by American heritage, which was again a bit disappointing. All in all the food in New York was mostly quite good, but over-hyped.

That's probably it for me and America. It's the third time I've been, each time paid for by some project or other, and I've seen San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Kalamazoo, and New York. I'm unlikely ever to choose to go there on holiday because of the jet lag. The places I really want to go are Israel/Palestine again, Istanbul again, and the shores of the Black Sea. Of course I've still got to go to Newfoundland later this summer, but that turns out to be only 3 and a half hours' time difference, which is a relief.

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