This is where I live. It’s also where I’m from, give or take a few Gloucestershire suburbs.
In September I am going to fulfill a lifelong ambition to visit New York. I want to do MOMA, Guggenheim, a bit of Blues, a mouthful of authentic New York cheesecake, Greenwich Village (I only have 3 days)…but I find myself strangely nervous.
Why? I’ve hiked the Alaskan Wilderness, backpacked all over the world, slept out in the Australian bush, meditated with monks on the top of a mountain in Katmandu… I was even propositioned by notorious Gloucester serial murderers Fred and Rosemary West and survived, surely I can do New York?
How is an English country woman of a certain age (certainly not 60, certainly not 70) going to fare in that city?
I know when a storm is immanent birds sing a different tune. That swallows circuit the sycamore on the opposite side of the valley in the evenings because that’s where the bugs hangout. Beans taste better picked fresh from my vegetable plot. New York on the other hand….
What do I know about New York? A colleague’s son was shot dead on the subway. People are ‘to the point’, and don’t have time for English perambulations (one side), but ‘everyone’s much more friendly than in London’ (says Francis). The streets may look ‘a to b’, but try walking them and you could be going all day. (However I must say the grid system looks a breeze compared to the lanes around here.) As a friend from Berkley (yours not mine, which is pronounced Barkley) once said, when I gave my address as Sunnyside Cottage, “do you mean the postman actually has to know all the house names?” Well yes, actually they do.
I’m not staying in a hotel I want the authentic New York experience. I’m staying in an AirBnB flat (oops, apartment) in Chelsea with a couple of young guys. They seemed nice on the web site.
I’ve been preparing. I’ve read Nora Ephron and ask myself regularly ‘What would Nora do?” I’m having one of my front teeth capped so I won’t arrive with an ‘English Mouth’. I’ve been thinking ‘sidewalks’ not pavements. I watched Desperately Seeking Susan, the other night. I serve salad as an hors d’oeuvre .
My friend Francis educated me on the different areas. I have a beautifully drawn map by Constantine Anderson of Midtown Manhattan (pub 1985) given to me by an American lover but my wise friend Francis has updated my map, providing a laminated one that won’t flap about announcing ‘tourist’ every time I check a route.
Today I checked the little guide book he gave me to art in New York. Much as I love the idea of the ‘Silk Stocking District’ or ‘Sunnyside’ (a rail yard as far as I can tell). I know I won’t find what I’m looking for there. But what am I looking for?