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Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

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March 22nd, 2010

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

Not ALL the plans went according to plan...

... but my last day in New York turned out rather fabulous.

The weather died on me, and all the nice sunshine of the last couple of days seems to have evaporated - leaving Rye this morning it was misty and low clouds dragged themselves across the sky; I caught an earlier train than I thought I would, and it was an express rather than a local, and even though the train itself was some five or eight minutes later than the schedule said it ought to be I STILL arrived at my destination rather earlier than I had ever thought I would. It was raining in the city and rather than drag myself around with luggage I took a taxi to where I was staying - and got my first experience of the full-on New York doorman at the entry point into the apartment building, holding an umbrella over me as I untangled myself from the cab. Everything shook out as planned, I was offered coffee (always welcome) and given through directions about how to get myself around Manhattan via subway (for some reason I was always fine with the London Tube but the NYC subway system scared the bejesus out of me. I'm starting to grow out of that now.)

Had a slice of devil's food chocolate cake the size of a small building at Magnolia Bakery at 6th Avenue and Columbus, and then went wandering down 6th in the drizzle with a borrowed black umbrella to find the next subway connection to downtown. Found it, got it, found my way to lower Manhattan, rediscovered a Sony shop where I inquired about the replacement for the increasingly ditzy battery on my little laptop - and was told that yes, I probably needed a new one, no, they didn't have it in stock, and it costs nearly $300. Yike. Walked out of there to think about it some more. There's got to be a cheaper place to buy this. SOMEWHERE. I'll deal with it when I get home.

Rain kind of stopped a little so I wandered along swinging the closed umbrella by the handle, and watched people. Grannies with dinky umbrellas still raised against the gray skies. Macho teens with hoodies and nothing else. Businessmen scurrying about like black beetles with their coats open over their dark suits, carrying computer cases in a grip of iron. The occasional fellow wearing an actual HAT, just like he had wandered in from some previous decade somewhere.

Got buttonholed by an ABC roving newsteam who were talking to people on the street about health care. I might have been on TV, for all I know.

Met an editor for coffee at a nice little cafe on Park Avenue, which went rather well. Bandied a lot of ideas about. And then, when he had to go back ot the office for a meeting, I stayed there and had a nice split pea soup and watched some more people - a couple having another publishing related discussion of sorts but it was hard to get a grip on it because the guy in the couple in question kept on alternating between fluent Spanish and English and I couldn't work out if he was the pitcher or the pitchee. A stunningly beautiful black girl who sat a couple of tables down from me engrossed in the Wall Street Journal held in long-fingered hands with scarlet talons. A Scandinavian-blond couple who walked past on Park Avenue swinging a little Chinese girl with a red ribbon in her hair between the two of them. The baby-faced guy who stood on the sidewalk handing out pamphlets for gay and lesbian rights and challenged me on gay marriage - I said I was completely for it but didn't have the time to stop and discuss it right then.

Stopped at a shoe store which had some fabulous shoes - but rdeck will be happy to hear that even though I asked about a couple of different models I couldn't connect to the ones I liked. The stunning pair on sale for $20 was, alas, the wrong size - and the other ones I liked they only had in my size in a kind of billious green and not the black that I was interested in. So I walked away again, shoeless (well, in my original footwear, anyway).

Found another subway that I needed. Made my way down to the Village, and walked down to Cornelia Street to look for the Cornelia Street Cafe, where I was to meet my hostesses for an evening program - deliasherman said that it was a celebration of Sholem Aleichem's 150th birthday, but "hopefully, he won't be attending himself at this point".

Well, he might not have done, but what an evening it was. Because the person who DID attend was his 99-year-old granddaughter, Bel Kaufman, who told stories about her memories of her grandfather which reduced me to tears because... because... I had a grandfather like that. His name was never famous, and he was beloved by a far lesser circle than Sholem ALeichem was - but I felt an acute sense of kinship with this wonderful woman, and I went, after, to tell her - well - just "Thank you". As she was leaving, later that night, inching past the back of my chair, I turned and said, again, but this time in Russian, "Spasiba".

She smiled, like sunshine.

Good evening, good company, good tales, good music.

We came out into deluge; and the walk of a couple of blocks to a Chinese restaurant seemed endless, with visibility narrowed to what I could see from underneath the brim of my dripping umbrella and trying hard not to SWIM across the streets in some of the bigger puddles on the way. But it struck me, on the walk back to the apartment from the subway, how... how... how much I love a city in the rain. The way the lights reflect off puddles and wet concrete and tarmac. The way that the wheels of passing cars swish through water on the roadway. The way that the clouds, earlier, had wrapped themselves around the Empire State Building like shredded silken veils. The way people hurried, holding coats closed and bags tucked under arms, the colourful blooms of special umbrellas bobbing in the sea of black and dark blue, the dinky plastic coverings over baby carriages whose passengers sit underneath a see-through cocoon and gaze with equanimity out into the world. the way damp dogs shake themselves occasionally as they trot next to their damp owners, the drips down from awnings and scaffoldings which come down where least expected and usually right after you stepped underneath one of those and closed off your umbrella. The smell, passing by a worksite under a tarpaulin, of wet earth - but not just damp soil, the wet earth turned from the deep, the kind of strange nostril-filling Nosferatu smell of dankness and mud and an odd otherworldliness, earth that had never seen the sun dug up from some vast fastness underneath the throbbing heart of Manhattan. The occasional whiff of hot coffee or pizza wafting out from a cafe or a restaurant as someone opens a door to go out or come inside. The tourist shops packed with "I LOVE NY" T-shirts and tacky tourist souvenirs.

I still don't know if I would have it in me to live in this place - but DAMN I love coming to visit New York. It puts... I don't know... *life* back into me, energises my blood, sharpens my mind, focuses my senses.

I'll almost be sorry to leave it tomorrow - but leave it I have to, my boarding pass is all printed up and ready in my bag, I have to get myself to JFK tomorrow by one means or another, and then it'll be winging my way back home.

I am kind of looking forward to it, in a way.

But it's always fun to come to this city. And it's always hard to say goodbye.
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