We have been walking about eight, nine miles a day in DC. Will NYC be less - or more? PLACE YOUR BETS
This was the only full day in New York, so we had to make the most of it. Why? I don’t know. Because it’s a sin to sit in a cafe and watch the world go by when you could be tromping down an unshaded sidewalk behind an old lady named Bernice who remembers when the city was better and then it got worse but now it’s better again.
I wonder if that is what they think. Or whether being an old New Yorker makes it impossible to say anything is better again.
Well, it is better again. There are Pret a Mangers everywhere, and if you say quel horrors, the locals are being replaced by soulless chains, the Pret down the street replaced some dingy fruit bar, and now there’s really good egg sandwiches for breakfast. So we had breakfast at the great table - I was intent on having a proper start to the day, instead of gobbling things in a soulless chain, I mean, my God there used to be a juice bar in this spot, a neighborhood landmark. I miss that place.
So we headed out to Central Park, threading through the opulent public spaces of the Plaza - which seems less gilded than it did when I stayed there many years ago (The Joan Rivers Show put me up, but that’s another story) and into the great green ramble.
Then to the Met. I could have spent an hour there! It’s so cool. All that art! Kidding. I could spend a lifetime there, but we had just a few hours. It’s the same as the National - you turn a corner, and there’s a work you know, but it’s real. It’s strange how it works: when you’re 25, looking at a painting from the last years of the 19th century, it seems like a very long time ago. Add 25 years to your own life, and the world somehow seems like yesterday. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to be in a city that still has some of the glories of that era, even if they’re cowed into silence by the boisterous new arrivals.
Anyway, the Met:
Never spent much time in the furniture exhibits, but for some reason I was drawn to the 18th century interiors. The Doomed World of the Nobility.
From there we headed south, and Daughter wanted to move east, off the fashionable streets. So we ended up on 2nd, which I think we can all agree is sufficiently removed from the fashionable streets. This eventually led us to . . . .
I bored the youths with the tale of the slaughterhouses and breweries that once occupied the site, and how you can detect the unfashionable history by looking at the backside of Tudor City, the old apartment complex from the 20s that rose a block to the west. You’d think they would have big windows with fantastic views of the river, but the view was so horrible they just have service windows - because they didn’t think it would get better any time soon.
Inside, my favorite kind of modernism. Fifties modernism, waiting for Cary Grant in a grey suit to enter briskly, in danger.
After our brief tour of what you could see without a proper tour - which consists of a hallway, and a gift shop downstairs, and also a non-denominational agnostic contemplation cove with a Chagall that has Parts Missing (perhaps because the project of world peace and human understanding is incomplete and will ever be incomplete, or some parts were taken down for cleaning) we went back out, and I had the opportunity to wonder what the hell they were thinking:
It's the US mission to the UN. The building that wraps around it is a hotel I've always liked. The US structure is remarkably unfriendly. This is our home turf, and we build bunkers?
we went south to the National Review offices, where I surprised them by showing up and insisting that I wrote for the magazine. Had a jolly chat with Charles and Ian, fine Brit lads both, then we marched west and north to Rockefeller Center.
Did I mention we passed Peg Lynch’s old house the previous night? We did. She lived on Gramercy Park, and I took a brief vid and said hello, you're not forgotten, here’s a fan in the impossible year of 2017 filming the place where you lived, and there should be a plaque.
One of Peg’s recurring motifs: the husband, sent off on a business trip, is instructed by the wife to look up an old friend of hers. Sometimes he has to deliver a package; once he just had to look up a dear old college friend who’d been dying to meet him, and of course he complained, but when he returned he was glad he’d phoned her, because she was a barrel of laughs, and divorced now too!
In those days Divorced Women were a threat, because it was presumed they were on the prowl for new men to take care of them, and had the virtue of experience that comes with being Fallen.
Sorry; don’t know how I got off on that.
SO we went to Rockefeller Center to meet a friend of my wife’s, someone she insisted I had to look up - and I’m glad I did, since it had been 12 years, and I was happy to stand in as Proxy and relate all that had gone on. We had water and some chips and it was somehow $54.
This is why we walk everywhere. If I'm going to be reamed for every sip and bite, I'm going to save on transportation.
A brief walk through the halls of Rockefeller Center, one of the most important urban groupings in the world, always imitated, never quite duplicated, with a stern romance that has not lost a jot of power. Daughter knew the story of the murals, which gladdened my heart. We were all amusd by War Baby Simba:
What next? Why, the Empire State Building. FFES and Daughter were going to go to the top. I did not. I sent them on their way and did some other things in the neighborhood, and was surprised how long it took them to get up and down. In the meantime, I just absorbed the great lobby.
The crowds had left, and the lobby had a strange quiet nobility. I’ve always felt . . . I don’t know, bad for the Empire State, since it opened at the worst possible time. It was the zenith of the era and its completion signified the era’s end and its failings - but of course its mad hopes as well. To put it all in the tritest possible terms.
I don’t know. You sense ghosts. Businessmen walking around the corner with a cigar in one hand, a newspaper tucked under the arm, heading off to send a letter from the home office. It was just yesterday that it opened, in a sense. A few score rolls around the sun.
One of the facts that heavies the heart is the idea that the people who were young when it opened were old in the 70s. They didn’t deserve that.
While the girls were up above I had an Americano at the Starbucks in the building, which also had a public bathroom. Long line; all women. One woman came up with an expression of distress and said she really, really need to go, could she cut in line? What can you say. So she cut. The next person who entered that bathroom did so with some trepidation, I’ll tell you that, and for good cause. I was four people back and by the time I hit the head the tiles were coming off the wall because the glue had dissolved. But before that a mother came up with a squalling child; could she cut in line? What can you say. BUT THAT’S IT. EVERYONE ELSE GOES IN A CUP.
Collected the girls and headed into the subway, but it was hot, filthy, hot, confusing, loud, and filthy, so Daughter said “let’s take an Uber.” Down to the World Trade Center again, because - well, the previous night I’d checked the ticket prices to go up top, and it was $$$$. If you ordered ahead for a timed arrival the next day, it was $$. We were committing the sin of going back to a place, but I’m all about going back to places. It builds bonds.
When I was young I pored over books about 20s / 30s architecture, and was always interested in the Barclay-Vesey building - its spare design, gorgeous ornamentation, and angled tower.
I’ve never been a fan of the Freedom Tower, but I’m starting to change my opinion.
Some views, you see a point; some views, you see a flat roof. I still think it works against itself, but I don't dislike it as much as I did before.
The elevators are fast. You don’t face the door and watch the numbers. Oh my no.
It was the most wonderful thing in the world.
Once you’re up top, you see some videos and get a sales pitch for a smart tablet yeah yeah LET ME IN and then there you are, standing where no one had ever stood before until this space was made.
Right away you learn something about your fellow man: he needs to be boxed on the ear on general principle. Let’s set aside the people who camped by a window on the floor with their phones set on time-lapse, restricting people’s access. I get that. But if you are sitting on the ledge with your back to the window looking through your photos or composing a Snapchat story you need to be caned, and promptly.
Afterwards we wanted pizza, so we went to Steve’s and ate in the park in the dark.
I know Daughter was in heaven; I know I was as happy as one could possibly be I think our French Foreign Exchange Student had the time of her life. . This was our gift to her: New York. She could go home and say she went to Manhattan. She was there. She went to the top. I hope she remembers it the rest of her life: whisked to the pinacle, beholding the glory of the island - and then eating pizza in the park at night on a warm June evening.
To America! Salut.
How I love it. But it's not for me.
There's more, but I can save it until Monday. It's not travelogue stuff. It's thumbsuckery of the most tiresome sort, but it relates to you - yes, you, the Bleatnik - in ways you might already know.
Have a grand weekend, and thanks for joining us on our East Coast adventure. See you Monday!