They came. They saw. They went.
Daughter K (all housewarming-party-sins forgiven) and her boyfriend M departed on Sunday, leaving our spare room looking extremely forlorn, ivory petals falling like tears from the weary looking roses on the window sill. But they remembered to strip the beds and leave the sheets in a neat pile, so there was one reason to be cheerful.
What superb company they were, during a whirlwind week that saw us taking in our favourite local for dinner, strolling through Washington Square and Greenwich Village (highlights: the Fresh Store, and the Friends building), watching our flatbreads baking in an open oven at Dizengoffs and then eating them with scrummy hummus and bits and bobs, walking the Highline and most of Fifth and Madison (14 km, according to M’s iPhone), scoffing scallops and sliders at the Central Park Boathouse, nuzzling horses in the park, shopping at Stella Dallas Living in Brooklyn (for vintage t-shirts and hats we will almost certainly never wear) and sampling the hospitality and delicious apple and walnut pancakes on offer in Toms diner. We welled up at the 9/11 memorial site, shot to the top of the One World Tower, peered through the half-light and pretended to be in a scene of SATC at Buddakan, and queued for forty minutes for a five-inch-high pastrami sandwich at Katz deli. We capped it all off with another viewing of The Orient Express (where it was me who fell asleep this time) and a classic all-dressed pizza at home.
In other words, we continued to experience the chronic hemorrhaging of money that is life in New York City. (I’m not going to lie to you. I pinched that phrase from Jonathan in Jonathan Unleashed. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re missing a treat.)
K and M went home full and happy. They also went knowing a lot more about Roy Moore than they would have liked. For those of you not living in the US and therefore not party to the twenty-four hour newsathon about Moore, he’s a Republican politician and former Alabama state judge running for the Senate, who stands accused of sexual misconduct with minors. (And yet, despite calls for him to resign, he remains defiant, and more disturbingly, continues to have the support of many Alabamans and fellow Republicans, including Donald Trump, who would rather see the seat go to a pro-life pedophile than a Democrat.)
Moore is just one of the many men caught up in the avalanche of revelations about sexual misconduct currently sweeping this country. We thought it was bad in the UK when we heard about Harvey Weinstein, then our own politicians, Sir Michael Fallon, and Labour MPs Kelvin Hopkins and Clive Lewis. Then came Kevin Spacey, and the floodgates opened a little wider. Now, in the dock alongside these guys are Charlie Rose (CBS host), Al Frankin (Democratic Senator and former comedian), John Conyers (longest serving Democrat in the house), James Toback (producer), Chris Savino (TV creator), Mark Halpern (journalist). And, and, and. The #metoo campaign is bringing forth wave after wave of seedy revelations, unmasking the rot at the heart of politics, business and the media, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It isn’t at all clear where we will end up: in a world where women really are treated equally and can go to work without suffering the squalid deeds of powerful men, or in the dawn of a new Victorian age.
After six days of witnessing all of this, K and M were a little shell shocked, but they did declare themselves to be in love. With Joe. Morning Joe, that is, which might just be the best thing on television. It’s a news discussion programme that never fails to be intelligent, thoughtful, lively, engaging and engaged. And funny on top of all that. It puts news coverage and discussion in the UK completely in the shade. In the UK we suffer po-faced newscasters in terrible clothes that have their partisan politics slapped like badges all over their sleeves, whose binary approach consists of either pillorying a politician from a party who isn’t one of their tribe, or pussy footing around one who is, without ever really elucidating the issue. Somehow, you always end up feeling not a jot wiser about the facts, but entirely clear about which party the broadcaster supports. On Morning Joe, and a handful of other brilliant news programmes over here (Fox News being a glaring exception), you enjoy conversations between truly intelligent, impassioned and approachable hosts, experts from academia and the commercial world, and politicians who are prepared to actually say something real rather than hide behind the party line. They ask probing questions of one another and really hash out the issues. Sometimes, either the host or the guest will actually say “maybe you’re right” or “I might have to think again about that”. They get real. It’s wonderfully refreshing, and does that all-important thing we crave: provide context and perspective. L1 and I may have to give up on Andrew Marr, whose approach is, by comparison, so dull and unimaginative, so hemmed in by protocol and party political correctness, so utterly TAME, as to be hardly worth watching.
We enjoyed Morning Joe every morning, then L1 hauled himself off to fight the good fight and K, M and I went out into the streets of New York in search of things to see, do and eat. We were particularly moved by our 9/11 Memorial tour, led by a wise and witty tour guide named Damaras. I’d been to the memorial site a few years before, but it has evolved, and the addition of Damaras’ funny, sensitive and thoughtful commentary enriched the experience and gave us a new take on events. Her personal story moved us to tears, as did the sight of the white roses dotted about the bronze parapets surrounding the twin Memorial pools, commemorating the victims whose birthdays fell on the day of our visit.
We didn’t feel so unequivocally positive about Memorial Museum visit that came after the tour. The museum itself is a physical marvel, a masterpiece of creative architecture buried deep underground and crammed with objects that are thoughtfully preserved and displayed. But there was something very odd about wandering around amidst hoards of people taking in so many remnants of a tragic event that took place just sixteen years ago: a handbag used by a woman to shield her head from the falling debris; a receipt and a page from the diary of a man who probably jumped from one of the towers; the crumpled door of a police car that had sped to the scene, the fate of it’s driver unknown; a recording of the last sad words of a man calling his wife to tell her that he doesn’t know what’s happening, and then, suddenly, that he does. It felt somehow very macabre and voyeuristic, a horrible invasion of privacy. Because the victims of 9/11 are not long dead. Many of the survivors, and their families, are still alive. It feels disrespectful to be picking through their belongings and dissecting their pain under these circumstances.
Why don’t I feel that way about seeing artifacts from the two World Wars? Why is that different? I think the answer is that for us to take in the magnitude and meaning of these kinds of exhibits, we need some real distance from and perspective about the historical events themselves. They need to actually be history. The events of 9/11 are still too close, so close that they are almost current affairs. Certainly, for the people directly affected, they are very much current affairs. The war on terrorism, depicted in one room of the museum, is not in the middle distance like Hitler’s invasion of Poland and his persecution of the Jews. It continues today. We still live with it, and with all the messy politics that go with it. And I don’t need to see television coverage of the towers falling in cloud of dust and rubble, because I watched, horrified, on the day it happened, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
The novelist, Robert Harris, uses the analogy of mountain views: “[Appreciating history] is like looking at a range of mountains. And the first time you see them, they look one way. But then time changes, the pattern of light shifts. Maybe you’ve moved slightly, your perspective has changed. The mountains are the same, but they look different.” Time. Perspective. We need these to appreciate history.
There will be many who disagree with me, who think the museum a fitting and necessary tribute. They will say that it is important to teach the very young every last thing about what happened. May we never forget. But do you really want your seven year old picking up a receiver, as we were all invited to do, and listening to the last distressed words of a flight attendant who knows her plane is going down? Is that the appropriate way for them to come to terms with a terrible episode in our history?
The three of us emerged from the depths of the museum feeling dazed and uncomfortable, and not at all sure that seeing what we’d seen had helped us gain any perspective. We walked to Brookfield Place to grab lunch, and then went outside to sit and watch the barges and ferries sliding sideways, like crabs, as they fought the tide of the Hudson, and to draw in great lungsful of the crisp blue air that’s such a feature of a good New York autumn day.
Light relief, for K and M at least, came in the form of a young woman (Ukrainian, it transpired) with a face full of stage-ready make-up and an outfit comprised of tight leather trousers paired with a mauve feather jacket. (You can’t even begin to picture this can you?) She asked me to please to take her photograph. Handing me her iPhone, she raised a finger to indicate that I should wait. She then proceeded to remove her already high-heeled boots and replace them with even higher heeled shoes. (At least I think you would call them shoes. Possibly they were items from a shop specialising in instruments of sado-masochistic torture). She then instructed me as to the correct way to hold the phone (like this, bit down, make better picture) and tottered up the steps to strike an endless series of poses against the backdrop of Brookfield Place and the beautiful blue glass towers that surround it.
After taking about twenty shots, I made to give her back her phone. She came very carefully down the steps and instructed me to wait, again, while she inspected the photos.
“No,” she said sternly. “ Too much concrete below feet. Higher please.”
I’d got the perspective all wrong. So we did it all again, and I tried very hard to get it right, with the appropriate balance between concrete step and ludicrously attired feet, as she posed and pouted for all of Ukraine, indeed for all of Eastern Europe. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see K and M collapsing in fits of laughter, but the wretches did nothing to assist me.
“There,” I said, hopefully. “I think that’s it. Have a lovely day!”
“Wait,” she said, and I found myself doing as I was told, rather than giving her a few sweary instructions of my own. “Now to put the glasses.” She delved into her enormous leather bag and retrieved a pair of equally enormous sunglasses. We then had to go through the whole business all over again, this time with her in mighty-moth disguise.
Fifteen or twenty poses later, I was ready to chuck her iPhone into the Hudson. She must have sensed my impatience, because she came tottering towards me, snatched the phone from my hands, and muttered a quick thank you before retreating to a spot ten yards away to inspect my sub-optimal photographic efforts.
K and M could hardly speak for laughing. Then all three of us watched, aghast, as the woman walked out onto one of the piers, where she cornered another poor unsuspecting victim – a man this time – and spent the next ten minutes posing with the Hudson in the background. I wonder if he managed to deliver a more satisfactory perspective than I did.
We debated about what might have brought this woman to New York, and why she wanted so many photographs of herself posing in sky high heels and a hideous feather jacket. Was she the girlfriend of a Ukrainian businessman who was tied up in meetings all day, leaving her to entertain herself? Was she posing for photos destined for the website of an escort service, through which she hoped to attract the attention of an American businessman? Or was she just a young woman who had saved up all her Ukrainian hryvnias to come to New York, and wanted to impress her friends and family back home by sending a nothing less than perfect photo of herself, mauve feathers dancing in the New York wind? She was certainly selling something, but it wasn’t clear exactly what or to whom.
We took these and other taxing questions with us on our lightning fast (102 floors in 60 seconds) journey to the top of the One World Tower. Now here was a place you could get some perspective. From a One World bar stool, with a passion fruit martini in hand, you can take in Manhattan, New Jersey, Queens and Brooklyn, finally understanding how they all fit together in a way that’s difficult to grasp when you are on the ground and up close. You can watch how the setting sun transforms Manhattan from a pale gold to a rich pink and finally, to a series of neon coloured streaks – the line of red tail lights moving up seventh avenue, the purple top of the Empire State, the flashing reds, yellows, oranges and greens of Time Square. It’s completely magical, like the personality of a city revealing itself little by little in the fading light. Spine tingling stuff, and well worth the $68 for three cocktails.
Until next Friday