One bitterly cold afternoon this week I received a visit from K, a Lithuanian woman in her early sixties who’s lived in New York for some twenty years. K had made the long bus journey from North Queens to uptown Manhattan to collect a package I’d brought over from the Lithuanian angel, R, who is the linchpin of our transatlantic life, looking after house, dogs and twenty somethings back in Wimbledon.
K refused my first two offers to come up to the apartment for a cup of tea, but finally relented. During the forty minutes we spend together, I learned that K and R are old friends who both left Lithuania in 1996, crossing great expanses of water in search of better lives. K ended up in New York, where she met her American husband in a dance hall in Brooklyn. (When she told me this I couldn’t help picturing the dance hall scenes in Colm Toibin’s beautiful novel, Brooklyn). The husband died eighteen months ago, and K said she was still trying to work out how to live without him.
A few weekends back, L1 and I were headed to the Coffee Shop at Union Square, where they do a stupendous breakfast in classic diner surroundings. It was L1’s first foray underground. He couldn’t get over the industrial feel of everything, how it was all – both trains and track – just big hunks of metal held together by bolts and rivets. It has character, sure, but also a whiff of dinosaur.
A few days later, reading the New York Times, I understood why. The New York City subway, loved, hated and relied upon by some six million people a day, has been neglected. “The Making of a Meltdown” screamed the headline. “How Politics and Bad Decisions Plunged New York’s Subways into Misery.” Apparently we’ve arrived here in a year that has seen one subway disaster after another – the derailment of a Q train, a track fire on the A line, a stalled F train that had overheated passengers clawing at the windows – all of them attributed to century old tunnels, and track routes that are crumbling as a result of decades of underinvestment. The accusations were endless: Signal failures are twice as frequent as a decade ago; New York is the only major city that has fewer miles of track than in World War 11; and New York’s subway now has the worst on-time performance record of any major rapid transit in the world. (Though, suspiciously, London’s Underground wasn’t even on the list.) Continue reading “Notes From Underground”→
“They’re not shy about using their horns in this city, are they?” L1 said on our first morning in the new apartment, as we craned our necks in the direction of the TV so as to hear Morning Joe over the vehicular argument that was gathering both pace and volume outside, five floors below.
“This, of course, is why a balcony is a complete waste of time in New York,” he added, clearly congratulating himself on having had the good sense not to pay whatever extra sum might have been required to secure an apartment with six square feet of precariously suspended outside space.
It occurred to us then, as it has almost every day since, that Manhattan actually has two great symphony orchestras. There’s the one that plays in the David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Centre, the NYPO (New York Philharmonic), and then there’s the one that plays on the streets. The street symphony’s illustrious composer is not Mozart or Brahms, but the combined comings, goings and inclinations of the millions who live, work and drive in the city.
Ordinarily it’s the string section that reigns supreme, with the leading first violinist being the undisputed concertmaster. But in the street orchestra, it’s the brass section that takes centre stage. The constant honking of horns by taxis, cars and giant SUVs forms the very core of the score in this city – mostly trumpets, French horns and trombones, with the occasional stupendously loud report from a tuba. (That would be a super-sized truck making its impatience known.) Continue reading “Is that a trombone I hear?”→
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.) Continue reading “On perspective”→
Everyone knows that the US is the tipping capital of the world. Right? And that New York is the capital of the tipping capital. You probably know this even if you’ve never been to New York. If you have been here, maybe you’ll recall falling off your chair the first time you realised you were about to sign away another 20% on top of the not insignificant sum you’d already paid for dinner, or how tedious it was to be constantly rummaging around for dollar bills to give the guy who opened your cab door/ took charge of your suitcase/ brought that bottle of San Pelligrino up to your room.
But nothing prepares you for the tipping culture that engulfs you when you actually live here. I’ve already mentioned Jennifer and my Whole Foods delivery. Then came my encounter with the merry crew of supers who run this ship called Manhattan House from a labarynthine arrangement of offices in the basement. A nice Irish guy named Terry came upstairs to replace two ceiling bulbs and identify the source of the annoying beeping noise that we’d been hearing every ten minutes or so for the previous week. (It wasn’t the smoke alarm on the blink, after all, but the Verizon wireless router thingy needing a new battery) Being new to the building, I wasn’t sure what Terry would be expecting in terms of compensation. Was his work carried out part and parcel of the rent we were paying? Did he send invoices to the landlord? Did he expect a tip? Continue reading “Top Tips”→
Can I tell you about the amazing service ethic in this city? This seemingly inexhaustible willingness to give you anything you need, just as soon as you have the idea that you might need it?
My first happy run in with this super-service mentality came after we discovered that the previous tenants were cat owners. I’m severely allergic to cats, and cat dander ( the definition of which, if you don’t already know it, is deeply unpleasant and something you really don’t want to hear) was apparently everywhere in the apartment, so I spent the first four days crying 😥 and sneezing and generally feeling rubbish. JV, the amazingly nice and efficient managing agent, sprang into action. Within a day of my reporting the symptoms, she had amassed the names of three professional firms who could help. A day after that they all showed up to see what they were up against. An hour later they delivered their quotes. When we chose one firm, they arranged to come and do the job on the Monday (this was a Friday), bending over backwards to rearrange other jobs because they could see I was desperate. They came – three no-nonsense women armed with with mops, buckets, vacuum cleaners and a huge extractor fan with a HEPA filter – spent eight hours tearing around the apartment like whirling dervishes, and left. Job done. And all in a third of the time it would take just to get someone to turn up for the initial site visit in the UK. When I marvelled at the speed at which they operated, the fellow in charge of the winning firm gave me a bemused look. “Well if we don’t do this, we know some other guy’s going to do it and then he’ll get the job.” It’s that simple. There’s this fierce desire to work, to get the job, and to stop someone else from getting it. And they all spur each other on. Continue reading “At your service”→