NEW YORK NEW YORK

I come through the long Lincoln Tunnel on the bus from Newark Airport and I find myself on 42nd Street in the heart of Manhattan. It's raining, cars are hooting, taxis are weaving,
crowds are hurrying, people are shouting, billboards are flashing, the air is buzzing, adrenalin is flowing and I am flung into it and inhaling it with the rain and loving it. My kind of big city, bring it on.

There is an uncertain kind of queue for taxis but nobody is doing much. Taxis hurtle up in any kind of order or rather disorder. Think like a New Yorker: I stand in the rain in the street my arm raised. I am spotted and throw myself into the iconic yellow cab before anyone in the queue can complain. All the taxis have video screens in the back with ads and loops of bland daytime chat shows. Fixed to the divided screen is a credit card swipe. The drivers are all silent and surly.

My destination is a narrow street in the Lower East Side, a bit like Shoreditch or Hackney, hipsters with beards in black jeans, the girls in black leggings, backpacks, bicycles, Japanese cars, trendy cafes and shops, somewhat shabby buildings with fire escapes. Quite promising. My instructions are to go to the corner deli and pick up the keys to my room. The store is like any small Indian store except that it's Arab. No key, no room. I try not to feel flustered. Mohamed tries to help me. I phone the host's number and leave a message. Nothing no-one. Time passes. I feel a fool in the tiny shop with my suitcase and my English accent. It's still raining. My throat is still hurting from laryngitis. I am coughing a lot. Mohamed helps me find the superintendent of the building, a stressed black Hispanic. He takes a photo of my booking on my phone with his phone and disappears. I don't see him again.

After 3 hours I am feeling desperate and homeless. Mohamed has gone home. Night is falling. "Old age Brit pensioner mugged/raped/murdered in back streets of New York" passes through my mind. No, get a grip, be sensible. Let's face it I am an experienced traveller and I have been in tricky situations before. I need a cheap hotel. Mohamed's sidekick takes me to a dubious-looking hotel. It's full but the nice man in reception finds me a Holiday Inn vacancy online. I walk the 5 blocks in the dark in the rain dragging my case and coughing, trying to be invisible.

The Holiday Inn has a queen-size bed, a shower room and a big TV. It's American. I feel relieved and exhausted. My host emails me "Hey I forgot my phone where are you? ". Too late. I email back and ask him about the following day. I never hear from him again. The price of the room doubles the next night because it's Saturday. Too bad.

The next day I meet a longtime friend at the Whitney and we have a nice time. The Meatpacking District is very cool, converted industrial warehouses, expensive shops and cafes. A lot of good architecture.

From there I go to Ground Zero to pay my respects and to see where everything irrevocably changed. 3000 dead, their names carved along the edges of the 2 wells on the footprints of the Twin Towers. Four walls of water, tasteful and non-threatening. Then I look further in and see the inner deep dark well, down down down, death in the depths, no escape. I tremble under the imagined weight of this immensely powerful fall of black water as I feel the continuing presence of disaster and death. All around the beautiful buildings soar. Western freedom and democracy. They shall not win. But this is the price that was paid.
The architecture continues to astonish. The Empire State building and the exquisite Chrysler building look retro. I love this city and feel entirely at home on its busy avenues and streets.
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From the sublime to the ridiculous. Round the corner in the midst of massive construction and roadworks is Century 21, a fabulous discount department store. Retail therapy. I try on 10 dresses but restrict myself with difficulty to buying only one. Can't afford to binge.

I spend the next day at MoMA. The 5th floor holds unique treasures, Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh and more. Then Rothko, Pollock, Twombly, Klee and Klimt. I am uplifted by so much beauty.

Time to catch my plane. I have tasted some of the fabulous fruits of the city. I will come back for more.

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