Saturday March 25
This would have been my father’s 98th birthday. I thought fond thoughts of him. However, notwithstanding that he lived in the US for 5 years as a child, he basically disapproved of America so he probably would have thought I was daft to go to New York. So wrong. I mean, I haven’t yet had the chance to mention the extensive public toilet provision in NY which he even he would have had to concede is admirable.
However, New York did not entirely cooperate in my desire to live it large as it was absolutely lashing rain. I took my friend J to the Pain Quotidien I had been in the other day and found that it had closed down in the interim. What am I? Death to the PQ? Anyway we waded up to Union Square where we found another one and had a very satisfactory breakfast.
We went up to the New York museum. My friend knows New York pretty well and I have a fondness for a city museum as you may recall. It did not disappoint. We had a grand old time wandering around and did the tour which was enjoyable.
We had a cup of tea and a sandwich looking out over a slightly sodden Central Park. Much more satisfactory than you might imagine from this description.
On the way back to the hotel, very annoyingly, I felt a migraine coming on. I took two paracetemol and lay down on my bed and was surprisingly perky by the time we were due to go to our Broadway show. We got the subway up to Broadway. My friend pointing out resignedly that we appeared to be the only two people actually paying for the subway (seems largely true).
I had booked the show in a slightly last minute panic. It was “The Book of Mormon”. I knew nothing about it other than it was due to come to Dublin just before the pandemic and for the duration of the pandemic the buses carried advertisements for it as they weren’t getting any updated ads. So I was a bit curious. I mean, not curious enough to find out anything about it other than it was supposed to be funny and slag off the misfortunate Mormons. When I tell you that it was written by the guys who did South Park you will get an idea of how it was funny. Did it appeal to two middle-aged matrons? Perhaps not enormously.
I quite enjoyed the singing and dancing though I am still baffled by the insult to all Ugandans which came somewhat from left field. My sister tells me that the Mormons are now using this as a proselytising opportunity, they await you outside the theatre and say, “Now you’ve seen the funny parody, come to Jesus.” Or words to that effect. I am quite impressed by this but we did not in fact actually meet any Mormon missionaries. Look, it was an experience. And the way the Americans manage their bathroom queues is truly inspiring. They had two marshals in the bathroom and it was a revelation. I have never seen a queue progress so quickly. Genius.
Sunday, March 26
We went for breakfast in a hipster joint called, appropriately enough, “Sunday in Brooklyn”. We liked it. I got a large stack of pancakes which I could not finish. Unprecedented.
To make up for the previous day, the weather was amazing. We decided to walk to the Brooklyn Bridge. I mean, it was quite far but we had lots to talk about and there were some nice views. We talked a bit about American health care costs. My friend said, “I always treat the excess like an addition to the premium because we always need it.” I was surprised as they are all very healthy. “On what?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “For example, I had a mammogram this week.” “Oh so did I,” I said surprised. “Isn’t it free here?” I asked astonished. “Oh you poor innocent soul,” she said patting me gently on the arm.”
I was mildly surprised to see a school bus marked in Hebrew which serves the United Talmudical Academy. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
I liked walking across the bridge very much and thought it was well worth the effort of finding it. Would 100% do again.
We went for a restorative cup of tea and then had a look at the outside of the 9/11 memorial. My friend said her children were really upset when they visited but I was surprised how upsetting I found it myself. It was my first trip to New York since 9/11 and I kept thinking about the day and listening to the harrowing coverage on the radio as I drove to a former colleague’s funeral. My friend was already living in America and she said it was so strange that all the planes were grounded. She lived near an air force base and heard planes taking off in the night and really thought World War III was starting. I remember how scary it was and how we really didn’t know what would be next.
After a re-group in the hotel, we went out to walk the quaint streets of the old town. I recommend Grove Street where we duly inspected the “Friends” house. We skipped the coffee shop downstairs and got takeaway coffee and tea nearby and took ourselves to Washington Square where it was warm enough to sit outside and drink it.
Sadly, my friend then had to go back to Vermont where people were waiting for her to fix their hearts (literal not metaphorical) and her husband was exhausted from holding the fort with the children at home (the 18 year old and the the 16 year old were ok – in fact the 16 year old had driven with her friend to upstate New York to inspect colleges – but the 14 and 12 year olds still need some minding). We agreed that we’d try to do it again. It was super-enjoyable to get away just the two of us.
Monday, March 27
Another beautiful day. I took myself to Chelsea Market which was nice (but not as good as the market in Cork, she said loyally).
On the way I stopped off for breakfast. A man left a NY hire bike outside with a bag in it while he went in to get his coffee. It was unmolested. I was astonished. My brother left a Dublin bike unlocked for a couple of minutes on the quays when he went into the Spar and when he came out it was gone. Conclusion, New York is actually safer than Dublin?
I was curious about the High Line Park of which I (like everyone on the planet, I assume) have heard much. I was surprised how pleased I was. It’s a linear park built on an old elevated railway track (lest you are the one person who hasn’t heard all about it). It’s charming and the views are novel. It’s a short walk from one end to the other. Truly recommended.
It must have been hard to sleep here when this was actually a railway line.
I appreciate that a prairie is coming but at the moment it looks like the grass in my back garden.
I then took myself to Grand Central Station. For a nation that is not in love with the train, America has the most impressive railway station I have ever been to.
I had lunch nearby with a friend who has recently moved to New York with her family. It was funny to meet her three daughters – all grown up – who were little girls last time I saw them. The eldest girl is 16 and she was impressively articulate and charming with the random stranger who turned up in her house. The younger girls were suitably polite but scampered away as soon as they could and who would blame them? Her husband who I hadn’t seen in ages turned up as well so it was all very pleasant. I was very curious to have a good nosy around her enormous flat and she was most obliging (Me: I’m dying to see the flat. Her: Of course you are. A woman after my own heart). V entertaining. They were off to Canada for Spring Break but were having to come home early to watch a GAA match (Leitrim v NY – New York won). Like me she is a martyr to the GAA (only much, much worse) all four of her children (her son is in Ireland in college) and her husband are very keen. The local GAA club is in Yonkers which is…not convenient. She thought she would put her GAA scheduling woes behind her by moving to New York (extreme) but not so.
I can’t tell you how sophisticated I felt lunching in this enormous apartment (every child has her own room) with views out over the skyscrapers. Delightful.
Like all Irish people, I have a several cousins in New York including a first cousin but sadly I could not see her and her (family lore has it) enormous flat on the Upper West Side as shortly before my visit she had tripped over her dog and broken her hip. Alas for her. Alas for me that my first cousin is of an age to break a hip. She’s recovering well, thanks for asking.
The weather was beautiful in the morning but it started to rain after lunch. I took refuge in the NY public library which is free to enter and has a super exhibition.
A dress Isadora Duncan (probably) wore:
Christopher Robin’s actual toys. The real ones that he played with that spawned an empire.
TWO Ulysses first editions, one bearing an inscription from the author:
Charles Dickens’s writing desk:
A Gutenberg bible:
Some quite hair-raising skyscraper building photos (a big favourite in New York):
All in an absolutely delightful setting:
My friend called from Vermont: “I miss our life together,” said she. Too right. I was still living it large of course.
That evening I went to Times Square. My NY friend suggested I go, “It looks just like Times Square,” she said. A good description. I found it quite impressive but difficult to photograph.
Tuesday, March 28
This was my last day in the city. In my quest for authenticity I went to a diner. It was fine but â‚¬50 for eggs and tea? Ouch.
I’d been searching for stamps for days but it was now or never so I went on a determined hunt for a post office allegedly around the corner from the hotel. No sign. I approached a respectable middle aged man passing by, “Are you from here?” His whole life seemed to flash before him, I could see that he had moved to NY but was from somewhere else. “For the purpose of directions,” I clarified. “Then yes,” he conceded. “Do you know where the post office is?” I asked. He looked surprised, “It’s behind you.” It was. Seriously, how could I have known? Are the days of US post offices numbered?
I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my last day. I decided to go to MoMA where I have never been before as I tend to like my art a bit older but I was really pleased. It broke my record for art museum full of people only set the other day by the Met. It was heaving. Any pictures that may give the impression that the rooms were not full to the brim are due to the genius of the photographer. There were some really nice pictures from the late 19th and early 20th century.
More obligatory photos of unsafe work practices.
A large Rousseau:
Loads of Picasso
Starry night by Van Gogh, if you could fight your way to the front of the crowd:
A whole room of waterlilies by Monet, it’s not just the Orangerie, it turns out. I nearly keeled over in surprise:
So many more great, well-known paintings, a gasp of surprise and delight around every corner: Chagall, Klimt, Matisse, LÃ©ger, Mondrian (whose works I have never before thought much of but which I found surprisingly engaging in this setting), De Chirico, Klee, DalÃ, Magritte, Warhol, Gauguin, CÃ©zanne, Kahlo, Rivera, Rothko, Jasper Johns and, as they say, many more. Honestly, all the hits were there (including a film called “Bottoms” by Yoko Ono, it does what it says on the tin). It is so worth a visit and to think, I nearly didn’t go.
There were a couple of paintings unknown to me which I really liked. This one by Kirchner, an artist I did not know, of a street in Berlin:
This Boccioni sculpture is spectacular in the flesh, as it were:
I loved this picture by Dickinson, an American artist I had never heard of:
I liked this self-portrait by KÃ¤the Kollwitz who I discovered for the first time when I was in Berlin last year:
I truly enjoyed this picture by Otto Dix whose pictures I usually find a bit tortured. I am not sure that the sitter – a renowned throat specialist – can have been entirely delighted.
I loved the shapes and the quiet feeling in this picture by Gabriele MÃ¼nter, again, previously unknown to me.
I don’t much care for Signac normally, but I liked this one:
It was nice to see Eileen Gray represented:
Although, I have to say that some of the punters appeared to have views about the (accurate) description of her as Anglo-Irish:
There was also an exhibition on Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio which was a bit creepy but interesting and the detailed work that went into it was extraordinary. As my sister-in-law once said, “They’re not called the creative industries for nothing”.
And, honestly, not to be sneezed at, the cafe in MoMA was truly terrific. And not too expensive either. It’s a bright airy room and the food is good. What is not to love? The elderly New Yorker with (possibly) a nephew sitting next to me speculated on what the lactation pods had been used for in their time and like many overheard NY conversations, it was worth a listen.
And then it was back to the hotel for me. I passed by the Rockefeller centre on my way and picked up a book for the plane in a nice independent bookshop. Then, on to the subway and out to the airport which, at one level, was seamless. The trains came regularly, I was able to get to the airport no bother but a couple came on to my carriage and he proceeded to lie on the floor just in front of the doors. She yelled at him and stormed off. He was a young man. Was he drunk, high, sulking? People just stepped over him. I was relieved when a young man asked him whether he was ok. He briefly opened his eyes, raised his head and said that he was. But I didn’t really feel we were all being our best selves leaving him lying on the floor there. I was relieved when a grumpy, woman with a badge of authority proclaiming her to be a subway employee marched into the carriage. I was less pleased when she stepped over the man lying diagonally across the floor and proceeded on her way down the carriage.
The flight home was long but uneventful. Kind Mr. Waffle met me at the airport and whisked me off to Avoca Malahide for breakfast. Avoca is notoriously expensive by Dublin standards. What was my first thought when I saw the prices? I can’t believe how cheap this is. Still, would I go back? In a New York minute.