New York, New York [Part 1]

Not long back from New York and the trip of a lifetime. I need to get back into my writing routine but it has taken a few days to shake off a beguiling feeling of unreality. I left A Dish of Apricots in the middle of an important discourse on different coloured jelly babies. I am keen to get back to it but first I wanted to say a few words about my Big Apple adventure partly as a matter of record and potentially as an aide memoire for future writing since I’m sure that there are stories waiting to be born from an adventure that was only a few days long but packed with stimulation.

I didn’t enjoy the flight. My travelling companion, Helen – to whom lavish thanks for organising everything – allowed me to have the window seat – and after the exhilaration of acceleration and take-off, I was entertained for a while as the scene below me turned into Lilliput and then an Ordnance Survey map and finally a cloudscape which rapidly became boring and creates an illusion of not moving at all. They say that an intelligent man is never bored: I would say that the reverse is true. Sure, there was a peek at Wiltshire through a gap in the cloud and a while later a glimpse of Ireland and then nothing for hours. The flight map on the screen in front of me eventually showed us off the tip of Greenland and finally coming in over Canada. All I could see out of the window was a jigsaw of vast ice floes. We still had a long way to go, over land now, though there was little in the way of interesting features except for the white shapes of lakes and meandering white ribbons of rivers where ox-bow lakes were dramatically on the point of forming.

After what seemed like geological aeons we landed at JFK. We arrived at our hotel after an interminable journey in a hot crowded bus through undistinguished suburbs and then along the Hudson River, over Himalayan speed bumps, which threatened to splinter every bone and knot our internal organs. It was an immense relief to arrive at our lovely hotel, just off Times Square. Hi, Paramount Hotel. You were very good to us, from the banter with the receptionists at check-in to the helpfulness of the concierge when we left. Thank you! A word here about New Yorkers. Don’t believe any baloney about them being loud and brash and shallow. They are certainly open and unreserved but we met with kindness and helpfulness wherever we went. And it’s not just because hospitality workers are part of a tips culture: they are proud of their city and genuinely want you to have a good time.

Time for a quick beer in the hotel bar and off for a first look at Times Square just a up West 46th Street from our hotel. This monumental kaleidoscope of a temple to commerce is gobsmackingly in your face. The whole area is wonderfully alive at all hours though you have to get used to the touts and beggars as in every great city. We would pass through here many times during our stay but for now it was time to eat. It just so happens that West 46th is known as Restaurant Row so we were spoilt for choice. Iconic dim sum at the Dim Sum Palace beckoned, however, and we were not disappointed. Travel weary, we crossed the road to the hotel and so to bed. After all it was one in the morning back in England. And the morning and the evening were the first day.


Let me now write in praise of the New York Breakfast. We made our way to the Brooklyn Diner where I ordered Eggs Benedict on a toasted croissant with hash browns and a salsa sauce. It was sublime. Here we met with our first taste of unlimited coffee. It may not be the greatest coffee in the world but it is such a civilised thing to have your mug topped up without asking and is symptomatic of the NY welcome.

On to the Lincoln Centre for music. Here Helen had pulled off a master stroke. I really do recommend her as a tour operator and guide. We were to attend a rehearsal of the evening’s performance by the terrific New York Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jaap van Zweden. The programme included a new piece whose name I’ve forgotten, the Rosenkavalier Suite, and Brahms’ Violin Concerto, soloist Janeen Jensen. The genius of this was that we heard all three pieces uninterrupted. Van Zweden gave directions only after each piece (and after the first movement of the Brahms) and they were fascinating in themselves.

The contemporary piece had some interesting textures but no discernible structure. It was pleasant enough but not memorable. The Strauss was luscious and witty – as ‘vulgar as a knickerbocker glory’, Helen said, and though I might cavil about ‘vulgar’ I could see what she meant. The Brahms was sumptuous too and Jensen’s playing mesmerising and electric. At times she seemed to be attacking the instrument and at others to be making love to it.

We enjoyed this from the stalls, and the second half from a box, at a third of the price of an evening performance.

One lovely touch – and I think this could only happen in NYC – was that when I went to the men’s room (see, I speak the lingo already) an attendant in uniform was swabbing the floor and singing to himself the opening bars of the Brahms.

Thence to West Village. We heard much of its charms but sadly they appeared to have been swamped by steady rain. We had an excellent coffee in a very twee deli/café and later hot beef in a toasted croissant in an unassuming Italian deli. It sounds simple but it was out of this world. We paid homage in the little memorial outside the Stonewall pub where protests took place in June 1969 which were, slowly but ineluctably, to liberalise attitudes to homosexuality in the West. The job is not done yet but it was right to pause a little in this damp garden and to be grateful for the massive progress that has been made.


I mentioned Helen’s Tour Guide skills. Fortunately, we both have the sense to cut our losses when the Fates are unkind. Beaten temporarily by the drizzle, we decided to come back to the Village later and to seek more culture undercover in the meantime.. Helen had a contingency plan. We headed for the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in the Meatpacking District. That unlovely name disguised a cultural treat.

Now there’s modern art and there’s modern art; there is pretentious and fraudulent stuff and there is stuff that will last. I don’t pretend to be an art critic but the exuberance of the place seemed to allow you to think out loud: ‘I may not know much about art but I know what I like!’ The feel of this gallery was a of a generous democracy of taste. There were several splendid paintings by Hopper, of whom I’m a fan. There was other universally acknowledged stuff. There were a great many installations that were undeniably ingenious. I found Helen laughing by an iconic pile of laundry. There was a kind of kitchen stage set made entirely out of minute tiles. Even the kettle on the hob and the tea towel on the counter and so many other detail were made of this glossy micromosaic. You couldn’t help but admire it. A note said that it had taken five years to create and I could believe it. There were fresh vegetables on white posts. There was a poster on the wall that said you could turn up at certain times and the exhibits would be available to eat. There was a wooden installation of a family, a pastiche of a family photograph, if you like. If you looked closely, you could see that the poor dog had once been a living, barking thing which had been immortalised, first by the taxidermist and then by the artist. There was a leg sticking out of the wall with a candle sticking out of it. You could admire, you could be shocked, you could laugh out loud but the principal feeling we both had about the collection was that it was joyous, a bold and positive experience.

A New Friend

It was in the ‘Village’ that we were accosted by a wonderfully ebullient lady as we stood dithering on a street corner trying to get our bearings. Remember what I said about the friendliness of New Yorkers? Well, Susan Emery Quinby (for it was she) was just the most fabulous ambassador for her neighborhood and city. “New York, New York, the city so nice they named it twice!” she declared and we stood there on the pavement – the drizzle had abated – exchanging banter for a good half hour. She collared a couple of amiable passers-by to take a photograph and here is is.

Hi, Susan! What a memorable meeting!

On to the White Horse Tavern where Dylan Thomas had his last whiskies before perishing. Apart from a mural on the wall there was nothing to distinguish it from a pub in London, apart, perhaps, for the genial service. We drank a couple of beers in homage and headed back to EatThai, an excellent place near the hotel, which was so atmospherically dark, that I had to read the menu with the flashlight on my phone. Never mind, my crab rice bowl was to die for. Helen was tired and headed for bed – we had walked over ten miles during the day after all- but I fancied a nightcap. I repaired to the Bar 46 where the barman, Matt, and I demolished many false stereotypes about the Americans and the Brits. And so to bed.

And the morning and the evening were the second day.

To be continued



Share This Page:


Sounds amazing…..I feel there will be a second visit….hopefully with your tour guide, the lovely Helen. May I prescribe bread and water for a while, whilst you save up for your return tour.

How wonderful to have an expert guide!

I envy you seeing/hearing Janine Jansen! She’s been on my wish list for a long time. Having only seen her on YouTube, I know what you mean about attacking the instrument!

On your next trip, try to get to the Frick Collection, across and down from the Metropolitan Museum.

I look forward to Parts 2, 3, 4. . . .

He’s being very kind. 😉

I’d planned a fair amount before we left the UK but was aided by waking at 5 every morning and so I would hit the guidebooks and google and plan some more for a few hours.

Three holidays in with Ian and I now know that good beer is almost as important as good art. Suits me too.

Tne open rehearsal was a steal, I’d read about it in the Rough Guide….these really are excellent books and I’d recommend them as a starting point for anyone planning a short, intensive holiday

We make excellent travelling companions. I didn’t boot her into the canals of Venice or Bruges and she didn’t punt me off the top of the Rockefeller Building! Beer and culture is what does it!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.