Manhattan on Foot

Friday, 9 December 2022
Emissions elevation

Up and out of bed as early as I can manage, trying to force my body into a new time zone. On the street at roughly 9am and start walking, first up Lexington Avenue to a café that the internet told me is a slice of Melbourne transplanted to NYC. My sister, better travelled, has told me that New York’s many marvellous qualities do not include widely available decent coffee, so I am prepared to do some research on that, before risking my entire day. The café so lauded by the web is no more, perhaps predictably, but its in situ replacement sells me a flat white, under that name, which is perfectly acceptable. Either there’s something in the groundwater at 667 Lexington, or New Yorkers have got better at making coffee since Kate was last here. Or the barista stayed when the owners changed.

From there, west to Fifth Avenue and south, south and more south, switching to Broadway where it intersects. My target: the Battery and a sight of Lady Liberty.

Which I managed, with very few stops, Saks the only store I spent any time in, making my way up to menswear, trying to decide whether 40% off a pair of very nice $5,000 trousers made them merely ludicrously overpriced or still an affront to human dignity. Undecided, but still determined to escape before my nose started bleeding, I made my way quickly to the lower lobby, where the jewelry that Anna wants is kept. Nothing had a price tag and I would have been too embarrassed to ask even had I seen anything I liked, so it was back outside and southwards, ho.

Probably the most obviously unique aspect of New York City so far is the tendency of the ground, already remarked upon in yesterday’s post, to emit smokes and vapours, as though the city were built upon a pit of nineteenth century industry, in which gangs of labourers toil in subterranean manufactories, enormous brass wheels turning while coal is shoveled into furnaces as fast as the bare-chested, grime-sweated men can make it so. It wisps from manhole covers, billows from grilled vents and gushes from plastic chimneys installed to raise the emission point a metre above the respiratory intakes of pedestrians and thus, presumably, wholly out of mind. I paused, in my progress down retail luxury’s most celebrated boulevard, to snap a photograph of such a chimney against a suitable backdrop, and only noticed when I came to review the photographs at the end of the day that I had perfectly centred the Empire State Building. Until that moment, I would have sworn that I had not yet seen that landmark.

Broadway got me to Union Square, where a small farmers’ market was in progress, which I quickly filmed with the aim of demonstrating to Anna that life in the centre of a densely populated megalopolis would be, if only she’d see it, just like living in Willunga (population: not sure, but next time they’re round for a barbie I’ll do a head count). From there to Wall Street, where I wandered in circles for a bit, found my way back to Broadway about thirty metres south of the charging bull statue, the arse of which was surrounded by visitors taking pictures of each other and, I imagine, the other end was too. But now my target was, if not in sight, then within a respectable golf shot, so on I pressed.

And made it, first past the National Museum of the American Indian, which occupies a prominent spot, albeit not as prominent as the one on the $20 note where Andrew Jackson’s vinegared visage still sits. Finally, past the queues of people with the time and the money to take the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands (“airport-style security ahead”, warned the placard, despite the low success rate of attempts so far to bring down a major city office tower by crashing a boat into it) to where I could see the famous symbol of the promise, fractured if never entirely smashed, of refuge and new possibilities. You’ll have to zoom in. Truly, she was more impressive in real life, but clearly I’d need to take the ferry to get a better look.

The imprisoned lightning

The small park at the Battery included, weirdly, not one but two erhu players, one banging out Christmas tunes while the other, at least as I walked past, playing Happy Birthday, fairly badly. Also, the rather overwrought statue celebrating immigrants to the US, which made me think of what Rodin might have produced if he told his models to ham it up, big time. From there, my first experience of the New York subway, which was fast, efficient, no filthier than London’s Underground and, despite what American late night television hosts had led me to believe, contained nobody publicly masturbating or obviously mentally ill, your correspondent perhaps excepted.

St Bart’s by night

A brief stop back at the hotel to lose a couple of layers of clothing, the day having warmed up, but shortly after setting out again I realised that I needed to negotiate with my circadian rhythm, so by 3.00pm I was back for a nap. My short walk contained only two points of note: my first indication that NYC has noticed that the World Cup is on, via the screen in the lunch bar I stopped at showing the Argentina v Netherlands game (commentary in Spanish) and, check your bingo cards, my first experience since arriving of being asked for directions, incredibly by a native Brooklyner, a softly spoken young African American lad just back from some time at a school upstate who was as confused as me about precisely where the platform for the number 7 train was to be found in the warren that lies under the Port Authority Bus Station. Yes, we were looking for a train under a bus station run by the people responsible for the boats and that’s just how we roll, here in the big city. Keep up, bumpkins.

After my nap, out again for a traipse, no goal but experience and no guide but my nose. Fifth Avenue southwards again, mostly, but this time not seduced by that temptress Broadway, then down 34th Street until I hit Macy’s. Which means, incidentally, that I must have walked absolutely slap bang right past the Empire State Building without noticing that it was there at any time. Where that building is concerned, I am clearly in danger of emulating Obelix in Switzerland, sleeping through the entire visit and reporting that the country is flat. At Macy’s, a videolink with home was established, and I was able to show Anna the interior of a department store, in case she had forgotten what one looks like, and also a bit of 34th Street, which was a bit busy and clearly looked sufficiently big cityish that some part of the excitement was conveyed.

From there, a longish walk to Greenwich Village, which reminded me of some bits of Melbourne, and a longish walk back again, via Times Square, towards my hotel. One pint of Guinness in a bar advertising World Cup matches, research for a place to watch tomorrow’s England game only, you understand.

QNYE1: almost constant sidewalk importuning, from the expected destitute wanting $5 to the woman wanting to talk about breast cancer. I didn’t tell her that I’d already given one mother. The only one I have any curiosity about was the young, wispily bearded man who left his more or less identically presented companion to step into my path in Wall Street to ask if I had a moment and was I, perhaps, Jewish? Ah, no, I regretted, at which his face closed like a slammed door and he turned away. To what deep mystery, I cannot help but wonder, might I have been introduced, had I been of the elect?

QNYE2: Pizza, bought by the slice. Times two, from two different places, one in Greenwich Village and one on Third Avenue, not far from my hotel. Pepperoni both times, and I now understand and agree that a broad slice of pizza is properly held by the rim, folded over to maintain structural integrity while you walk. Also, the Third Avenue place made way better pizza, and I’ve no idea whether that’s because it was beef pepperoni, certified halal, or they just know what they’re doing here in Midtown East.


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