Thursday, 25 June 2015

New York.

And so, having escaped our slice of imperial Britain (trapped in amber) we came finally to New York. After 9 days of wall-to-wall food with every facility within a few minutes walk we were suddenly on our own, in Brooklyn and needing to find our way to the hotel. Worst, it was 7:00am on a Sunday morning and we'd been up since 3:00am.

However, things were not too bad. The locals were all more than helpful and within a couple of hours we had 7 day subway passes for $31 each and had got ourselves and our huge suitcases to the hotel. 

Sunday morning in New York was hot and sweaty and our hotel room was bone chillingly cold. Americans are prolific energy users and while the New York streets are full of all manner of fuel efficient hybrid vehicles, which also make the air cleaner,  the hotel accommodation is not even double glazed. The room is noisy and clearly very thermally inefficient. The airconditioning holds our eleventh floor room at a manageable temperature, once we figured out how to alter the setting to something more of our liking. (BTW, anyone who thinks that a couple who have just crossed the Atlantic via ocean liner, a massively inefficient use of energy, are being a little hypocritical to critique North American building codes. Yes, we hang our heads in shame.)

However, we got our stuff partially organised and headed off to the Neue Gallery where Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adelle Block Bauer is on display. Having seen the film Lady in Gold a few weeks earlier we were keen to see the piece in the flesh.

The Neue Gallery is on New York's museum mile and what treasures are amassed. In the following days we would visit the Guggenheim Museum, the building itself is a glorious piece of vintage futurism. The MET and the MoMA. The later too is a glorious container for an amazing array of artwork.

But culture is more than just art. In the subways trains there are posters imploring people to behave courteously, and, for those who might not know what that means, the posters go on to explain:
Don't block the doors, 
Don't wear a rucksack in a crowded carriage. 
Don't have loud conversations on your mobile phone 
Don't apply make up, pluck your eyebrows and so on in the public space of the train carriage. 

And these work! In Europe we've become accustomed to hearing the half conversations of complete strangers as they talk, and often yell, on their phones. A situation which gives them licence to behave antisocially - not respecting the people sharing the physical space around them. Such posters enumerate this behaviour and report that it is rude. And so, despite  the fact that the subways are old and at times very crowded, people in these public spaces behave better than in Germany. 

Last night we abandoned high culture for pop-culture. We saw a Broadway musical, Beautiful. Carol King's story and a wonderful selection of some of the greatest pop tunes ever. It's interesting that some of the songs that were hits for black singers in the US were done by white singers in the UK. Dusty Springfield did 'Will you still love me tomorrow' in the UK. In the early 1960s black musicians were still something of a novelty in the UK while they were already a respected genre in the USA.

It was a great show but it did not quite explain how a nice middle class Jewish girl from Brooklyn came to be writing music for black artists like the Shirelles and the Drifters. One can only put it down to pure genius from  Don_Kirshner who arranged things that way. Aretha Franklin's 'Natural Woman' and the Shirelles 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow' are amongst the pop greats of any era.  Such superb phrasing, "so tell me now and I won't ask again".  These made the show part of the New York experience right up there with the Guggenheim.

New York is all that you expect and hope for and it can still surprise. Last night, as we walked to the Carol King show, I was astonished to see this on the side of a bus: 
The banks own your money, 
The social networks own your relationships, 
The corporations own your minds. 

My God! I found myself wondering, has the soul of Kafka or Philip K. Dick taken over the NYC transport system? Not actually, turns out it was an advert for a new TV series, Mr Robot. 
But hey, another stroke of genius, now I'm promoting it too. 

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