My previous post ended with a short note on how I was a little apprehensive about going to New York on my own and within ten minutes of arriving in Manhattan there was the perfect illustration of why I felt that way. I left my wallet in the taxi. Fortunately, or maybe because I'd just given a generous tip, the driver alerted me to my idiocy and my week was saved. Further examples of my stupidity include: leaving my unfinished Philip Roth on the plane to New York and leaving an Elmore Leonard, my Roth replacement, on the plane that took me home. I need a nanny, or just someone to slap my face every know and then and tell me to wake up.
The Paramount Hotel was cool as was my room, if a little small. But the bed was comfy, the air-con worked and it had a great shower. It was situated just 100 yards from Times Square and that is where I first headed. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced. Piccadilly Circus is the obvious reference point for an Englishman but there's no comparison really. If you somehow magnified Piccadilly Circus by twenty and force-fed it hallucinogenic drugs then a similar effect might occur but I doubt it. There exists a complete sensurround of noise, colour and odour that is quite exhilarating and dizzying to the newcomer. I wandered around Times Square and its arteries for about an hour before deciding that what I really needed to do was get a drink and so I settled in the Playwright on about 49th. It looked as though it might have a British influence and I desperately needed something familiar to cling to!
I was served by a girl with an Irish accent and there was soccer (I was in America. I've since reverted to calling it football) on the big screen which was very reassuring. So reassuring that I stayed for ages. Karen from Kilkenny was very helpful and gave me a big list of places at which I might like to drink and eat, all separated by district and with a street address. Armed with this information I decided to visit some of them and had a great time. I talked with interesting people and sampled many of New York's draught beers and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
The next morning I awoke at about nine. I was fully clothed and without even the slightest recollection of leaving the last place I'd visited or even of entering or walking back to the hotel. It's a wonder I wasn't mugged or violated in some other terrible way but also comforting to know that my homing instinct is still quite sharp. I felt absolutely terrible but had a full day ahead of me and didn't allow myself to wallow in my discomfort for long. The plan was to get the Subway to South Ferry and walk from Battery Park to Central Park, an ambitious target and one that eventually proved overambitious.
Here is what I saw and did over the next few days:
The Korean War Veteran's Memorial is in Battery Park. Beneath your feet as you walk around the memorial is information on casualties suffered by the different countries that sent troops to the war. I discovered that UK forces experienced 1078 deaths and 1263 missing in action. Netherlands had two deaths, as did little Luxembourg. Curiously, the Italians suffered no fatalities.
A glass roofed elevator ascends at great speed and you step out of it having climbed seventy floors in thirty seconds. The view as I stepped out onto the rooftop was one of the most beautiful I've seen. Right in the middle of a vast ocean of concrete and glass lies Central Park, looking like quite the most tranquil and fertile place imaginable. Its importance to New York is quite obvious from this vantage point - without it madness would reign. Then I walked to the other side of the building to look towards Downtown Manhattan and was greeted with a sight that was (coming up: a word that is overused but is applied literally here) breathtaking. The tops of the proliferation of skyscrapers form what looks like an uneven looking floor. Standing proudly above them all is the Empire State Building and it's magnificent. I stood staring for several minutes in a vain attempt to try to take in everything in my field of vision. I actually stayed for the best part of an hour. I don't know why, all I did was stare. I just couldn't move but eventually my stomach told me it's time to stop gawping and start eating.
And that's about it. I went for a few drinks after the the show to try to help take stock of what I'd just seen and heard, not just that evening but over the preceding few days, and then to bed.
I took the train to JFK the next morning. It was quick, clean, easy and cheap. I arrived home about 12 hours later, exhausted but very happy and thinking that no place has ever made me feel so small and insignificant and yet so much a part of something incomprehensively big and wonderful.
I love NY!