Can it really be so hard to find a slice of genuine New York cheesecake in New York?
Buoyed by the prospect of a free sail-by of the Statue of Liberty, I headed south again, down to the Staten Island Ferry. I couldn’t help congratulating myself that despite rubbish forward planning I’d already seen a fair proportion of my ‘musts’ on the tourist trail: the Flatiron, Greenwich Village, Ground Zero and Wall Street. Curiously, I hadn’t seen a single power dressed businesswoman striding out in trainers (or what we call ‘daps’ around here). Perhaps New York women are over that fashion, or did I read it’s coming around again with trainers that cost near on £200 a pop?
Acutely aware that my possible ‘date’ for the evening, Bernt, hadn’t called , I hunted around the cafes in the ferry terminal. ‘Why would he call?’ I kept reminding myself. He doesn’t know me from Eve, I’m just ‘another nifty aunt from nowhere’ (my eldest brother Michael’s expression when introduced, aged about 7, to yet another of my mother’s friends. That was how it was in the 50s. He probably felt we had enough natural aunts already, what with Grumpy Helen, Posh Helen, Mamie, Peggy, Eileen, Margot, Margaret and Mildred. So what if he didn’t call? I could always seize my courage and make my way to the Duplex Bar.
I guess a ferry terminal is not the best place to source a genuine New York cheesecake. It’s not often I eat half a cake. I’m more a have-my-cake-and-eat-it person, and worry about the pounds tomorrow. Be warned, don’t waste your money on what looks like very nice cheesecake there. If anyone can recommend where to buy the genuine article I would be so grateful. Better still, since it might take me a while to return, I’d appreciate a recipe. I want to match my memories of the cheesecake I used to buy when I was flat sharing in the Cromwell Road in London in the 1960s. It was the lightest, slightly lemony, most crumbly taste of heaven, not a hint of the cloying stodge I chucked with a heavy clunk,in the terminal bin.
The ferry was packed to the gunnels, except that instead of guns the side decks were crammed with tourists. Being short and, yes, nifty, I’m pretty adept at worming my way to the front of crowds. I soon had a good position, if a bit hemmed in by hugely enthusiastic Chinese neighbours, taking selfies and shuffling around like penguins to each get a shot with a New York backdrop. Security had been tolerably lax getting on the ferry, but I was amused to see that we were accompanied by outriders in true western style, but in a speedboat, complete with machine gunner at the fore. It occurred to me that if there was some kind of trouble it could be a pretty confusing and messy outcome, but that’s life post 9/11.
At Staten Island we all disembarked and re-queued for the return ferry. Coming back we passed closer to Lady Liberty, who was looking spectacular in the glowering storm light, which only enhanced the green of her copper. This may seem incredibly naive to Americans, but I didn’t realise she was so big. So big that if you are feeling energetic, and if you’ve sensibly booked in advance, not only can you climb up 354 steps inside her to her hat (which it is a kind of viewing platform) you can even climb into her newly renovated 24 carat gold plated torch handle. She is the inspiration of Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor. Frustrated by the lack of liberty at home he thought ‘Damn it,’ (or something like that, ‘Zut Alors’ maybe?) ‘I’ll make a statue called Liberty and give it to the Americans, they appreciate what liberty is all about, and who knows, perhaps we’ll get it here one day.’ At the time it was the largest metal statue ever constructed. Her big toe alone could sleep a large man and a close friend. The words on the base say “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (Certain elements of the US Government might like to remember that.)
And just as I’m taking pictures and marvelling at Liberty, and being squished by Chinese, my phone goes off, with the sound of a nightingale. They like that.
“Oh! Bernt! Pardon? What did you say…I’m on the ferry. No, the FERRY. You can? Tonight? That’s fantastic, so kind of you. Six? Oh dear, I may have a bit of a struggle…. Where did you say? What was that? Where?” The sun comes out and picks out a building reflecting my renewed hope for the evening.
I bought with me a little strapless polka dot number, á la Sex in the City style in case such an occasion should occur, and some little strappy heels. But there I was on the ferry, miles from the apartment, dishevelled, blistered and a bit stinky from a day walking around the city. I really wanted to go back to the AirBnB to take a chance on the overly-shared bathroom being free so I could tart myself up for the night. If Bernt was going to have this nifty aunty foisted on him, I did at least want to scrub up and not embarrass him…I’d heard he was a pretty stylish fellow. I panicked. It was already 4.30 and I hadn’t yet faced the subway, but it was clear to me that I was going to have to.
I had wondered when Francis told me the subway was “complicated” and there wasn’t much point in explaining it, why? I soon found out. I’m an intelligent woman, much travelled, and fairly savvy in foreign parts. I could not work it out. I wasted a precious 15 minutes trying to get a ticket for starters, until I found the one native who wasn’t in a hurry who gave me a bit of a hand. (Bless you, I hope you read blogs about New York.) But once I got underground I was completely stumped. I’d like to tell our moron mayor of London, who is considering getting rid of all the staff booths on the London Underground, to please go to the New York subway, without any minders, and find his way from Staten Island ferry port to Chelsea. He won’t find maps, they don’t seem to exist. Ha, we’ll see if you change your mind then, Boris. I went up, then down, and across, getting more and more panicked and flustered like a proper old lady. It was hot, and dark, and garaffitied and scuzzy and totally confusing and I kept remembering my Enneagram teacher’s son who was shot for no reason on the subway. I yearned for a nice simple map like our underground map. I was near to tears, wondering if that was how my life would end up, bumping around the subway, lost, hot, tired and hungry, till dementia set in. Then an angel appeared, on two sticks, thin, greasy grey hair, limping painfully, a sheen of sweat on her brow. “You lost honey?” I could have kissed her. She limped her way to the platform across from the one where she was catching a train, and showed me which train to take. Only when I’m on it did I realise it actually wasn’t. Not really her fault, she did her best. I took another another: that wasn’t right either.
By five thirty I was totally fraught, and realised the only way out was up. Above ground I established which way was north and started walking, intermittently taking calls from Bernt, and catching only the odd word because the traffic and the sound of people talking on their mobiles was too loud. He was trying to telling me the name of the restaurant. Finally, in a side street I found a spot quiet enough to catch it: Gene’s. All hope of freshening up for the evening lost, I swallowed my pride and hailed a taxi. Would I make it in time?