You can’t help enacting a cliché when you hail a cab in New York, except no one barged me out of the way rudely. Maybe I looked as desperate as I felt?
Making myself understood was another thing.
“Gene’s, please, 73 West 11th Street, between 5th and 6th?” Even saying the address seemed impossibly exotic, unlike 73 Cats Brain Quarry, Bunting Hill, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is the kind of thing you get around here.
“No, Gene’s?” I added the American inflection, in case that helped – I’ve often wondered? Is that a sign of insecurity? Even Obama does it?
“Ah, Djinns” (I made that one up.)
“Yes, yes, Jinn’s, I know Jinns.” We got there in the end.
It was a pleasant surprise to find the cab didn’t cost me a month’s pension. In fact we arrived so quickly I realised I could have walked. Finding a seat in the corner of the bar, with a good view of the door I breathed again and smeared on a bit of lippy; the best I could do to smarten myself up. I didn’t risk ordering a drink, the night was yet young. Instead I employed that mainstay of single travellers and got out a book and planned the next day – the day of the the BIG ART FEST. I’d only been anticipating cruising the New York art galleries for about 20 or 30 years. It would be a knickerbocker glory of art: MOMA, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, piled in layers and the big blob of cream on the top the Witney, where I hoped to find one of my favourite American artists, Edward Hopper. My friend Janet said not to bother with Central Park (“It’s just a park”) but I hoped to combine it with walking to and from galleries.
Was Bernt caught up in traffic? I scrutinised everyone who came in. These people didn’t look like they’d risk buying green bananas. I only had a vague idea of what Bernt looked like, from a slightly blurred image in Nick and Jane’s wedding photos, but I did know he was a few years older than Nick, so he must be mid-late 50s. It was a bit like internet dating but without the risk, or the deceptively youthful picture. As he was probably expecting a Miss Marple lookalike I thought it was probably up to me to make the connection although Nick might have shared that he calls me ‘Cool Aunty’.
Gene’s was born in 1919 and didn’t look as if it, or it’s clientele, had changed much over the years. That seemed to be part of it’s charm. I was definitely in the world of elastic waisted trousers (or in this case pants) but it was exactly what I wanted – ‘old’ New York, authentic Italian, and considering I had not had time to slip into a trendy little dress and posh up a bit – somewhere I could feel completely relaxed.
When Bernt arrived it could be no one else. I’d been told how charming he was. Full of apologies for the traffic, he was immediately recognised by the maitre d’ who led us to a well placed table decorated with a single red rose. The waiters buzzed around us and brought an hors d’oeuvre of fresh vegetables to dip. Bernt entertained me with tales of New York through a delicious meal of my favourite – Aubergine Parmegano – or, as someone called it in one of the reviews: ‘Eggplant Parm’. While we’re on the topic of reviewers what was that whining diner on about saying the place smelt of ammonia, the chicken was bland, his wife’s mussels were chewy, the oreganato (?) mushy and the bread fishy. Some people are just too fussy. I say that not because I found it all delightful, but because nearly all the other reviewers gave the place top marks. My guess is he didn’t find it ‘on trend’ enough and had been eating far too many smears of food on a plate drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and garnished with pea tendrils. (I know they are tasty, but does anyone else find them scratchy to eat?)
The stories kept on coming, and Bernt, like everyone who lives in New York, had his sad tales to tell of 9/11, yet what I picked up most was an old worldly charm, a dash being cut, and an unmistakable air of the 1920s or 40s. Bernt’s crinkle cut hair and choice of tie could place him easily in that era. I asked what kind of music he liked and was completely unsurprised to find he loved Swing. OK, now I’m going to get weird…I pick up a sense of people’s past lives. I got a strong impression one day off my friend Rosi, who makes me look tall (I’m 5ft 2½ on a good day) and who has tiny feet with exceptionally high arches, that cause her a great deal of pain. On some level I knew that they had once-upon-a-lifetime been bound. If only I’d had more time, I’d have loved to go Lindy Hopping with Bernt in New York. Sometimes you meet a new person and it’s just easy. Relaxed and humorous. We laughed out way through the meal until the bottle was empty and a working man needed to get home.
The trouble with being someone who doesn’t drink much, is that when you share a bottle of wine over a meal, it’s much. Not that I was embarrassing, or incapable of walking without a wobble, (though it’s a good thing I didn’t wear those heels) I just had to be a bit careful not to trip over a walking stick or two on the way to the door. Luckily Bernt offered to drive me back to the apartment.
” I think it’s round this corner. Oh, sorry, I thought it was. Maybe the next block? Oh dear, I’m sure it was this one – it was definitely red brick.” Very helpful when most of New York, that isn’t high rise, is red brick. “There. There it is!”
Bernt looked relieved at this point, I said my goodnights, effusive thank you’s (he wouldn’t let me pay for a thing) and noted the slight freeze that said ‘for gods sake don’t kiss me’. Once I’d worked out how to get the key into the lock and trailed up 8 flights, and managed the door into the apartment, I found someone was still up. There was Tom, whose wholesome, genial picture led me to book the room, sitting in his boxers drinking beer and watching South Park on the TV. He barely looked up, though he did say ‘Hi’ between mouthfuls of cereal. I grabbed my suitcase from the corner of the room, bumped down the dark corridor to find the door at the end. The room seemed much smaller than it looked on the website. There was a bed and a small table by it with a lamp. No chair, but a wardrobe of sorts where I could hang my clothes. I slithered into the silky brown sheets, turned the pillow cover inside-out to avoid the pilling, and noticed the picture on the wall by the bed – the Flatiron. It felt like a good omen. I fell quickly asleep to the sound of city noises instead of owls and foxes.