I was a New York virgin. She wasn’t very gentle with me.
After a wholesome break in the wilds of Maine, I headed South for New York city and an impromptu reunion with some pals from Arabia. Went via the worst-signposted metro system in the world to our digs for the sejour in mid-Harlem. Great neighbourhood of diverse nationalities, top nosh, community gardens and super-friendly Americans. It’s truly brilliant how they are so accommodating of strangers. No one will let you look bamboozled for too long without checking if you’re ok. No one will pass a tourist without checking that they’re alright and if they’re having a nice time. I thought it would annoy me, but it gave me warm fuzzies instead.
What did annoy me is the tipping culture. Everyone in the service industry is on the band wagon and it’s seen as a slight if you don’t tip at least 15%, preferably 20%. What? Anywhere else you added a fifth to the bill – let’s say power bills, check-out at the supermarket – would have people spitting feathers.
One of Tom’s friend’s tipping the cable guy inspired arguments with my American counterparts about who to tip and who not to. The argument about servers only getting minimum pay sucks ass; it should be up to the restauranteur/whoever to balance the books and pay their wages properly. Me, I prefer the Finnish and Chinese attitude of the tip being your return custom and a busy restaurant. Paul Theroux sees tipping as a ghastly travellers’ tax and dislikes it almost as much as me.
Spent day one on an epic walk with the Wigwam, taking in the enormous Central Park, bagel shops, Strawberry Fields, and SoHo before retreating for equally enormous pizza and to greet the London contingent. Day two was spent enjoying a leisurely brunch at the posh David Burke Kitchen and its dysfunctional heating system (a shame given the snow outside), meandering around the Ground Zero monument and retreating for shelter ahead of Halloween night. The 9/11 fountain was chosen from over 5,000 entries. Why? It’s so depressing. It looks like a black hole sucking the life out of the surroundings. Much better to have a symbolic celebration of survival, endurance, non?
Halloween night was the mandatory fancy dress party at the house of one of DP’s pal’s in East Village, though we had some [delayed] pre-game drinks at his swanky suite overlooking snowy Central Park. Too much fun times. All of New York gets involved and it’s superb. All manner of different characters roaming around the streets.
I’m sorry to report that the party floored me. As we continued on the sight-seeing mission of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the next day, I could but vom. The hangover was so bad that I actually cried. And maaaybe spewed in the queue for the ferry where an annoying lady stood in it. The staff at Ellis Island asked me if I needed a doctor. The taxi driver who later delivered me home gave me a sweet, bottle of water and napkin in sympathy as I puked into the gutter. Very nice man.
I’m not proud of this and, to be honest, it seemed most unjust. I only had a few bevs, far fewer than the halcyon Dubai days. The problem, I fear, was the re-introduction of wine. Note to self – can’t handle wine, weed or shots. It’s pointless. I will never learn.
British drinking habits are strange and I’ve been trying to relearn more European ones. In a recent conversation with Marco, my Portuguese buddy, he revealed that the thing he finds most annoying about British people (he’s allowed an opinion cos he lived there for 10 years) is the habit of dismissing any bad behaviour with the excuse ‘I was drunk’. Likewise, the American author of a book of observations on the English – so bad that I can’t bring myself to publicise it in any way – commented on British drinking habits, saying that we drink to excess and find drunkenness totally acceptable, but disgraceful drunken behaviour shameful. Without really knowing where the line lies. She continued to say that, at dinner parties, Brits have the tendency to move from uptight sober oddballs, to the life and soul, to incoherent within a few short hours. Alas, in this I fear she is right.
Anyway, on this occasion, for once, it wasn’t my habit that was to blame but the cocktail. Ahem. I’m probably allergic to wine.
So, fully recovered and having bid farewell to a proportion of the reuniters, the remainder hit up the Chelsea Market’s delicious food and carved pumpkins, the artistic district of Brooklyn (DUMBO, an artistic warehouse district whose acronym stands for Directly Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Wall Street and the Highline. This is the result of a project to protect and regenerate the freight train line that used to serve the meatpacking district etc. Now, it’s essentially a nice walk in the park. And my highlight of this particular day? Seeing a dog dressed up for Halloween as a lobster. I miss having a dog to dress up. Poo used to so love his tutu.
We spent the evening at the official Halloween parade that runs uptown from Soho. Total chaos with all sorts of different costumes on display. Would have been an anticlimax had it not been for the Italian Brooklyners with their loud, abusive heckling, mustard pretzels and whiskey.
On my ultimate evening in the sidee, we nipped in to see ‘How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying’, the Broadway musical with Daniel Radcliffe. Managed to secure some bargainous $30 seats (with a good view) by popping down the the theatre on the morning for rush tickets. Lucetta and Ange managed to do likewise, well, similar in the form of a ticket lottery, to get seats for the much acclaimed Book of Mormon too. Lucky devils. It’s by the makers of South Park and sold out til April. Proper tickets are going for $400!
Remember how Radcliffe tried to get away from his Harry Potter typecast by starring in the stage version of Equus where you have to get bollock-naked? Remember how he made the papers mostly for having a big dong? I swear it’s an optical illusion. Harry Potter has stunted him to a measly 5’6”. That’s 1.65m for all you metrics out there. Tiny with a very tense face but great show.
Some beers with Bry, fresh off the boat from Amsterdam to his new New York life, finished up my trippy trip, trippy trip, trip, trip, trip. Whistlestop, exhausting, too much fun times.
Incidentally, did you know that New York was originally known as New Amsterdam? Science fact. Check out the history here.