So, I appear to be in New York. This came as nearly as much of a surprise to me as it may have done to you, given that a week ago I had no idea I'd be coming here. The actual day's work I'm here for is tomorrow from 9-5; the rest, till Thursday, is just lotus eating.
I know it's hardly the most ground-breaking observation, but it really does freak me out a little that I woke up this morning in Cricklewood and now I'm sitting in SoHo (that second capital letter is very important here; otherwise it just sounds as if I popped on the Piccadilly Line). It's another hotel room blog post- I am joining you from the comfort of the Soho Grand, where they've given me something called a Superior Queen. Too many jokes... suffice to say that this refers to the size of the bed, rather than the desk clerk or, indeed, your correspondent. The hotel is as advertised- boutiquey and chicey. Lots of muted browns, in the manner of such places. Nicer than the holiday inn was. Can I stop now? I'm not very good at describing hotels.
Nor shall I bother describing the flight. You've been on one, you know what they're like. I watched Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep pretending to be angry Catholics, and then all but the last ten minutes of 'Changeling'. I look forward to finding out how it ends, perhaps on my flight home. I'm going to stick my neck out and say I reckon the kid probably doesn't come back. More acting for Ange, that way, and why not? She's ever so good at it.
Once landed at JFK I made what I now realise was a tactical error. 'What a great idea!' I thought to myself, 'a shuttle service door to door at a fraction of the cost of a cab! I don't mind sharing with these lovely strangers if it means I get to do something so inexpensive and convenient!
Hmm. From all the waiting around as the driver awaited orders on precisely who to pick up, I fondly imagined that they were allocating shared cars to people heading in the same direction. Two and a half hours later as I was decanted at my hotel, I had been disabused of this notion. I'm sure the East Fifties are lovely but driving endlessly round them dropping people off at hotel after hotel isn't my idea of fun, particularly when my destination is the Lower West Side. It strikes me that the bridge we came in on, Queensboro bridge, must also be known as the 59th St Bridge, which means it has a place in my internal jukebox, but sadly when we crossed it I was neither looking for fun nor feeling groovy. (Another couple of turnings and we were in Ethan Mordden land- the apartment at the centre of the 'Buddies' books is on East 53rd between second and third, known in the 80s, at least to Mordden, as 'Hustler Alley'. I didn't see any hustlers but perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough).
The rest of the journey passed in increased irritation as I was forced to listen to the monotone ramblings of the world's most bored teenager. She'd modelled her voice on the dead-eyed estuary style perfected by the novelist and businesswoman Katie Jordan Andre Price, and she was keen to let the other passengers know (a) that she'd been to Manhattan like loads of times and (b) nothing in the world had ever impressed her, ever. 'Thass Chrysler with the spike. Thass Empire State. Empire State's ok.' She was talking to a Welsh lady whose trip to New York was a late replacement for a trip to Thailand. 'I didn't fancy it after all the violence. But New York was the obvious option really. It's the same as Bangkok really, for shoppping'.
Finally, though, once I'd escaped, and also checked in at the office for details of tomorrow, I was free to fall back in love with the place. The weather didn't make this easy- vicious wind and driving rain, so much that the umbrella the hotel had thoughtfully provided committed suicide, with a great sense of theatre, as I approached Times Square- but I realised what New York possesses in spades, which is so vital to being a great city; it has familiarity. I've been here once before, for two weeks, three years ago, but it felt like mine. I knew exactly where I was going, no maps necessary, as I retraced the first walk I ever took in Manhattan, from lower Broadway to Times Square. Now, admittedly this walk is pretty much a straight line, but it was the remembered detail that was pleasing. I ambled into Barnes and Noble on Union Square as if on automatic pilot, and navigated from DVDs to CDs and upstairs to fiction on some remnant of (not massively useful in my day to day life, it must be said) memory. Even more pleasingly, I avoided the trap that the city presents the unwary traveller, the bit where Sixth Avenue pretends to be Broadway** and you can end up in all sorts of trouble if you're not VERY CAREFUL. Finally, at Times Square, the weather defeated me, and I hopped onto the subway for the last part of my journey, to the Met- where I bought a ticket for tomorrow night's 'Trovatore' for rather more than I had intended to pay. Still, I've just had an email from the BBC telling me that I overshot my commission for Mitchell and Webb, so I shall allow the jokes to pay for the opera.
What haven't I mentioned? I haven't mentioned the other part of my history with New York. It was on my last visit here that the most intense relationship of my life began to fall apart (he wasn't with me- it all happened by text). I mentioned a flair for drama; the text which, in retrospect, started it all beeped into my phone when I was visiting Ground Zero. Now, I'm not enough of a solipsist to, well, you know. But I bet it's the *second* worst. So, it remains to be seen how much of my feeling for this incredible place is coloured by my feeling for that strange time in my life. I don't know. But I'm off to Lombardi's now for the best pizza in the world, so I can't say that it's bothering me over much.
* If you don't get this reference, then there's a really good song you don't know.
** I did however suffer the exact same confusion at the Spring Street/6th Ave subway stop as I did last time I was here, and set off in the exact same wrong direction. I have decided that I don't like 6th Avenue: it's sly and it tries to confuse people.