Tuesday, 21 April 2015

New York

This was the shortest leg of our trip. All of us piled into a bus in Washington DC and headed out for New York on Thursday morning, stopping first for lunch, and then halfway at Delaware to stretch our legs and maybe have a cup of coffee. Yasmeen, the girl from Saudi is addicted to Starbucks. No matter where we go, she routs one out. Which is not hard to do here in the US of A where there is a Starbucks around every corner.

So by the time we get into New York, it's evening and the roads are jammed. It takes us quite a while to pass through the Lincoln Tunnel and I naturally think of Will Ferrell in Elf (the Christmas movie) running through the tunnel. Well we get through...and finally arrive at our hotel which is opposite the Rockefeller Centre. In terms of location, it was the best. But being in the middle of New York, it was small and cramped and there were only like two girls on the front desk to check us in..so we waited, and then waited some more. By the time we went up and dumped our bags, took some of the free water on offer (this was the only hotel - other than the one in Chicago that offered this - in Washington, you had to go to the 24-hour Walgreens around the corner in the cold for some overpriced mineral water) and came downstairs ready to hit the streets laid-out in its customary grid-like fashion, it was already getting dark.

I had agreed to go out with Alberto - to look for a bookshop that Emily had recommended - Shakespeare and Co. When I got down to the lobby, Shyam (from Sri Lanka) was waiting with Alberto. He would be coming with us. We googled Shakespeare and Co to find out where it was; 939 Lexington Avenue where it crosses East 69th Street. That would take a LOT of walking from where we were...but it was New York, so walking would be fun and rewarding. We walked past St Patrick's cathedral which was under renovation (Alberto took note of the Mass times and actually went on Sunday; or it may have been Saturday because we were leaving for our split cities on Sunday morning, I was going to Boston). We walked past NBC and I saw the 30 Rock universal sign:

And we walked and walked some more and passed many store fronts...I particularly liked this one and Facebooked it almost instantly:

with the caption: Bergdorf Goodman: you can never be too rich or too thin.

Then we got onto a road where we were walking past Central Park (I think Alberto planned it this way) and it was beautiful. We watched squirrels playing around in the park, wondering why spring was not here yet. It was cold and I was glad of my coat. But the walking helped some. Shyam, as is his wont, was quiet. He just followed us meekly. Alberto navigated because he was the best at it. I chattered amiably, took pictures which I uploaded on Facebook instantly so my friends could come along on the journey with me. I don't usually do this, but Addy had asked me to.

And after walking for half an hour to an hour...we finally got there. Shakespeare and Co. Heaven. I stood there and breathed in the books.

I heard a regular chatting with one of the cashiers about when such and such was a sex symbol. And I cut in: "I remember when Robert Redford was sexy."

They nodded in a friendly manner and let me in their conversation with no problem. I kept picking up books and adding them to my pile. "Somebody stop me!" I said, looking at them, half amused, half alarmed. The cashier proved to be a kindred soul.

"It's even worse when you work here," she said, showing me the books she had put away. One of them was a copy of John Winchester's (think Supernatural) diary. Ah, another Supernatural fan.

I'm into Dean Winchester...I told her. She nodded. It was Dean or nobody for her. Sam didn't even merit a mention.

I bought books on New York like "Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York" which is edited by Sari Botton ( was halfway through reading that before I gave it to a friend in San Francisco - now I'll either have to buy it on my kindle when I get it or get another copy - I'm opting for a Kindle copy), Humans of New York (which I intend to give to Kenny for giving me five signed copies of his wonderful book to give away in the US), a book on mindfulness and another by David Sedaris (Naked). I think that was all, but I may be wrong...there were so many bookstores and so many books. The ones I finished over here, I either sent off to a friend or gave away. As for the others, am going to try and find a way to bring them back to KL.

Anyway, we paid for our purchases (I bought a whole mess of books, Alberto, who had started book shopping in Washington, bought Humans of New York and Shyam, who doesn't seem to like bookshops the way we do, bought nothing). We wandered back to the hotel, keeping a lookout for places to eat along the way, settling for a pizza place. Knowing American proportions, I ordered a slice. Alberto and Shyam ordered a whole pizza...and when it came, they were gobsmacked. How could one person possibly finish all this? As we chatted I suddenly noticed Shyam, who is vegetarian, picking out the circles of pepperoni from his pizza. Alberto, who had advised him on what to pick had thought that pepperoni meant pepper...he apologised profusely but Shyam was pretty Zen about it. Alberto decided to give the rest of the pizza back to the guys at the shop so they could resell it. Shyam asked for his to be packed. He said he could take it back to the hotel and give it to the "girls" - the ones from Thailand and Vietnam.

As we walked back, it started to rain. We took shelter under the eaves of a shop and I spotted this:

which gave me a thrill.

We also happened to pass Bloomingdales, which of course, brought to mind the movie Serendipity.

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was freezing and ready for bed. More than ready.

The next day we had two of the only meetings we were to have in New York at the UN building. Which was pretty cool. We met some nice people there. Walked to Grand Central for lunch and as I didn't want to have lunch with the rest, I broke away and wandered off by myself, buying some meds (my nose was running something awful and I kept sneezing in the room they assigned us) and some envelopes with bubble wrap in them so I could send off some books to friends. I figured I would do it from New York.

Unfortunately when I walked back to the UN building, I couldn't remember where we were at. I wandered around lost, trying to catch a glimpse of anyone else from the returning party. I sat for a while on a park bench in front of the building.

Eventually I found a card someone had given me and it said his office was in 799 UN Plaza. I asked around and found it.

Anyway that evening when we got back, I was due to go to Alexandra's to meet her for guacamole and a Japanese movie. We talked in her apartment, she showed me some cool new clearing techniques (and did one of them on me) and then we took a cab to some really cool "only known to insiders" place to watch this movie.

It was pretty good - though I found the female protagonist (who was supposed to be Chinese or Manchurian, I was never quite sure which) to be spoiled and bratty. The Japanese hero was of course, handsome and honourable. It was made during the war and was a war propaganda movie and there was a scene at the beginning where the heroine beats her rickshaw driver because a Japanese car had knocked his cart while he was outside a store waiting for her, and he fell and lay on the ground. First, the driver of the car (a Japanese) beat him and said he was faking it. The hero of the movie (who was the passenger of the car) stopped his driver from beating the poor rickshaw driver and offered him some money as compensation to go and get his hurts looked at. And then the heroine comes bounding out and she hits her rickshaw driver, saying Manchurians are famous for playacting to get money out of people and forbade the Japanese hero from giving him any. In all this, the poor rickshaw driver looked hunched and beaten. It was not bad enough that he had been run over. He had to be subjected to all those humiliations and talked about as if he were no better than a recalcitrant child or an animal.

So, almost at once, I didn't like the supposed heroine, whom I didn't find that beautiful, to be honest, and I did find spoilt beyond measure. She falls in love with hero. Sees him with another woman (a misunderstanding). Joins the Communist party in a fit of chagrin. Goes along with their plan to blow up the railway that the hero's company is working on. And then..."comes to her senses" at the last minute.

Not that we saw how it ended. Alexandra's knees were starting to ache something awful and she wanted to leave early. She asked me to stay...it was not that far from my hotel anyway, but I wasn't interested enough in the characters to see how everything turned out.

She took a cab and I walked back to my hotel. I love crossing streets in New York and taking in the sights. Nothing better.

However, the cold that had started that day, grew worse and I had a bad night. We were supposed to go for a tour of Wall Street that morning but I was feeling too crummy. I called Brittany, one of our liaisons, and begged out. Then I went back to sleep, woke up and watched Serendipity which I had downloaded on my computer, gone down to have a bagel at Theresa's, which was a diner near the hotel...and took off to Alexandra's. By a very circuitous route. First, I went passed NBC again and bought a picture from a Georgian who called me beautiful and kissed my hand. He charged me $10 when his board said $20. Nice start to the day. But it was cold. And a fine powdery snow had began to fall.

I wanted to go to the post office to send off various books and parcels. I had found out that Nessa would be sick and not able to make it. I wanted to send off Jacob's (Katherine's son) picture book. And some letters and postcards. But first, I needed to find out where the post office was. It was on 33rd and 8th and I took a cab there because it was cold and the snow was falling more heavily.

I stood in line in front of a woman who seemed to have schizophrenia - she kept talking to herself about the government stealing her pension cheques or social security (am not sure which) or perhaps the postal workers doing that because two of them and gone astray. Her son, whose hand she held tightly while declaring war on all and sundry, glanced at me apologetically. Poor boy.

Anyway, I got my business done quick smart and then I decided to walk from here to Alexandra's. On the way, I got waylaid by a man selling skincare products who managed to sell me a caboodle of products seemingly without my consent. I was reeling as I left with a bag full of product.

Anyway, I walked quick and finally made it to Alexandra's. She had another appointment later so it was not cool arriving so late. But she was fine with it. I had a great time with her and then I took off again, this time walking back to the hotel. I dropped into Shakespeare and Co on the way, had an edifying conversation with an old man called Joseph about the state of the world, bought a book and a slew of postcards which I would write out and send that evening itself, and while still on the way, decided to drop in on what looked like a proper restaurant (I was tired of diners) to have a proper quiet meal, all by myself, with one of my New York books (perhaps the one with the writers who love and left New York, writing a Joan Didion-type essay - Goodbye To All That).

My risotto when it arrived:

I ate a leisurely meal, didn't finish it because risotto is a bit creamy and much of a muchness but I enjoyed what I had. It was a lovely meal in a lovely restaurant which soon started to fill up with other patrons. I decided not to have dessert and took my leave.

A walk back to the hotel where after a little rest, I wrote out the postcards and lugged the books I would be sending on so I wouldn't have to lug them with the rest of my luggage. My bags were heavy. I had packed books rather than bookmarks as presents. Because I felt it was more reflective of the country. Reflective maybe. But heavy. Oh dear, how heavy. And my book-buying spree wasn't helping.

So I got another cab to the post office. 33rd and 8th. And managed to post off everything. Oh boy, did it feel good to get rid of that load.

But when I was walking back, despite the coat and gloves (which I had purchased from a street vendor on the way to Alexandra's) I was cold. Freezing. It had stopped snowing but it was about 0 degrees out there. Walking fast, trying to shield myself behind big buildings from the icy gusts of wind, I made it back to the hotel. Not before I saw this, which I thought was rather strange, until I went to the other cities and realised that they name their streets funny things....from movies or famous people.

It was really nice to get back to the warmth of my hotel room. We were leaving early the next day which meant I would have to pack. And I was tired and it was nearly midnight but nothing for it...what has to be done, has to be done.

So I packed, crawled between the sheets and was out like a light.

The next day was Sunday. We would be flying off to our respective split cities. I had time for a quick bite at Theresa's where I enjoyed the bagels yet again. And then, back to the hotel to get my bags downstairs...to check out.

Goodbye New York. Be seeing ya!

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