Waiting for the half naked Facebook friend in MOMA

 

 

David Hodgson

View from my room

View from my room

 

My second day in New York the sun came out.   I pulled on the little white dress and ‘Bowie flash’ earrings that I thought appropriate to meet a man profiled on Facebook half naked, who was either arty or somewhat dodgy, and says he was at school with me.

Was he though?  I didn’t recognise his torso (his eyes were hidden by his arm and boys at school weren’t that hairy).  I hadn’t admitted that when he contacted me on Facebook and said “I live in New York, shall we meet?”; it didn’t seem polite.  However his name did seem a bit familiar, and I was curious, and even though time was short I called him up and we agreed to meet at the MOMA entrance.  We’d eat somewhere else to avoid a superfluous $20 entrance fee for him.  From that I deduced he was busy the rest of the day, which might be a good thing in the circumstances.  8 flights down, and less than a hundred yards around the corner and I realised I had completely blown the dress code when the wind sliced past my shoulders and reminded me it was September. I puffed back up the 8 flights and changed, annoyed at myself for wasting precious time.

Map in hand I made my way uptown towards Macy’s.  You have to shop when you’re in New York don’t you?  Especially when you are 5ft 2ish and this is a country full of small latinos with narrow feet who have whole floors of department stores devoted to them.  Only I couldn’t shop.  It was overwhelming.  So much choice, and actually, if I thought about it, so little need, or enthusiasm.  I searched my way out of Macy’s (Mazey’s?)  and back out into the streets.

The soundtrack of New York is shouting policemen, sirens and traffic honking.  It’s mad on those streets; wonderfully mad.  And down at the bases of all the pointy, shiny buildings the people are ants, and look particularly mad.  Every other person appeared to be talking to themselves, gesticulating wildly.  Not quietly either.  They weren’t, of course, they were on ‘hands free’.

Backtracking, having overshot, I headed south.  I soon worked out that there was no point in hurrying, the traffic lights are set to average walking speed.  Speed up and you only get bossed ‘DONT WALK’ over and over again. I’ve crossed the road in Guangzhou and survived, it makes me pretty nifty, but it didn’t make a lot of difference here.  (Is this a subversive way to get people to slow down, help them to chill a little?  Or is the universe trying to tell me something)  I marvelled at the skyscrapers, the impossibility of them, the sheer brazenness, the confidence of architects that could design buildings like that.  From my small experience in a sandpit, I can’t understand how they stay up.  I loved the way remnants of a past-life New York intermingled, the deco touches, the reflections shimmering.  It wasn’t dark and claustrophobic at all.  Sky and sunshine were everywhere.  (In a good way I hoped, not like that new skyscraper in London that set light to the carpets in the building opposite and melted people’s cars.)

Getting a peep at the Empire State building I formed a plan to go up it at sunset.  I’d once made the mistake of queuing for hours to shuffle up to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, only to look at the view from the top and think ‘OK. It’s Paris.’  Now everyone flies, views from the top of tall buildings need more than just height to excite. I like to watch London as the sun sets from the giant wheel on the embankment.  It’s pure magic as the lights gradually come on over town as the wheel slowly turns.  You can even get a sneak peak of Buck Palace’s enormous gardens.

When I eventually arrived at MOMA, neck-aching,  I went straight upstairs to lust over my favourite artists: Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe.  Edward Hopper was, I think, a bit of a peeping tom.  Just look at this picture.

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Edward Hopper

 

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Edward Hopper

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Hopper again

 

 

I can empathise. There is something quite thrilling about looking into people’s homes when they are not aware.  The top deck of London buses at twilight, before people remember to close their curtains, is a particularly good for this.  (We British build hedges around our front gardens for privacy, unlike Americans, and then we make buses that can peep over. Don’t you just love that?)   Hopper’s models stare dreamily into the distance. It gives me food for their thoughts, as does his silent presence in the room painting away.

Pressure built though as I looked around the galleries.  So little time.  Two and a half days?  Was I crazy?  It wasn’t long before I was to meet the mysterious David Hodgkin and there were floors of the gallery left to explore.  I should have logged all the artists to inform you, but oh well….  However, I’ll share some of my favourites, and hope it inspires you to visit and find out who did them:

That last one reminds me of the excruciating pain I get when I suffer from iritis.  I could get a knock-off of the Mattisse dancers in a local furniture shop in Nailsworth (painted in China for the indiscriminate British shopper) but I think I’d rather gaze at the original in MOMA.  At some point I managed to let go of the enormous pressure of having such a brief time to enjoy New York.  I would come back.  Of course I would.  New York was under my skin.  They might not have adopted me (what happened to that proposal I sent to the New Yorker eh?) but I had adopted them.

I went in search of another favourite, Andrew Wyeth.  His painting “Christina’s World” is iconic.  I had mistakenly thought it was painted by Hopper for some reason.  But no, it was a painting Wyeth did of his neighbour Christina, sadly afflicted by polio and only able to crawl.  She hardly ever left her house.  And here she is, on the grass, looking back at her home, and possibly wondering how long it will take her to crawl back there.  I didn’t know this at the time, I thought it was a lovely picture of a girl in a sunny field, who had just woken up, been called from the house perhaps?  It was only when I came home to the UK I saw a documentary on Wyeth that revealed his extraordinary life controlled first by his father then his wife Betsy.  He was very close to Christina. I wonder if he felt similarly hobbled?

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Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth painted in 1948, the year I was born

 

I gazed long at Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abstraction in Blue.  Fabulous sensuous, breath-holding, vaginal work. Looking at her flower paintings I swear she used to transform into a bee and wriggle into their folds and have sex with them.IMG_5552

Georgia O’Keeffe, Abstraction in Blue

 

There was no time to linger longer.  It was time to meet David Hodgson.  I hurried down to the entrance lobby to wait, and have to admit – with some nervousness.  Who would he be?

 

 

Lost and found in New York

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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.

“Jims?”

“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.

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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.

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Mushrooms in Manhattan

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Market in Greenwich Village

How cool is Greenwich Village really?  I’ve often fantasised mingling with the people who hang out there “Oh me, I’m a British writer, well since you ask, yes I have been, a couple actually…”  (writing for the New Yorker in my dreams; worshiping Nora).  ‘What would Nora do?’ I asked myself as I strode south from the Flatiron ?

Nora Ephron has been my hero ever since my friend Francis said “YOU HAVEN’T READ NORA EPHRON?” in much the same tone his girlfriend Suzie once said ‘You haven’t seen CITIZEN KANE?’ That’s the trouble with coming from the sticks; I lack a sophisticated education.  He gave me a copy of I’m worried about my neck.  What’s not to like about a woman who has also spent most of her life searching for the perfect bag, and who worries about her neck?  (Big bag? Small bag? Backpack?  A recent solution is to have a large bag, the mothership, and a small bag in it, but I’m not sure my osteopath would approve.) Nora wrote When Harry met Sally and You’ve Got Mail, two of my favourite films.  I was devastated when I found she’d recently died…now I won’t be able to meet her.  This trip is partly to walk in her shoes.   One hopes a bit of the genius rubs off.  I sat on Hemmingway’s bar stool in Cuba, and Dylan Thomas’s fireside arm chair in his seaside home in Laugharne when the curator was out of the room.

Greenwich Village seemed completely familiar when I got there.  A bit of a blend between the backstreets of Nailsworth, Stroud, and Soho in London – little independent shops and cafes hanging on in there against all the recessionary odds.  It didn’t feel edgy to me (but then one of my brothers recently said how weird he found the people in Stroud.  There’s  a Facebook page NUFS (Not Unusual for Stroud) that kind-of confirms his point of view.  I was charmed by the little country market in the village square – heritage tomatoes piled in rainbows, and farm fresh looking vegetables, just like our award winning Stroud Market.   “I could live here”  I thought.  (I spend a lot of time speculating how city dwellers get their vegetables, the sheer mechanics of feeding a big city with fresh and not local overwhelms me often.)

In Washington Square the pressure on the shared loo at the AirBnB caught up with me and I made the mistake of opening the doors to one of the portaloos. I tried the other one.  I can report that these were the filthiest loos ever.  Worse than Glastonbury, worse than that shower room in Madrid where someone mistook the drain hole for…more gross even than that place in the Gilli Islands where I had to agree with the graffiti in my room ‘This is the worst shit hole in the whole world‘: I heaved and banged the door shut.  All praise be to my sphincter but I wandered on faster than I would have wished, annoyed that it meant I had to miss an accomplished musician drumming on paint cans.

Before I started this trip, you may remember my hesitation about visiting New York…how would it compare to my life in a sodden valley, where the wildlife invites itself in without knocking.   As I write, horses graze in the field opposite and I can tell which way the wind is blowing by the direction of their heads.  Pigeons are getting fat on the food I’ve put out for the little birds.  It may be almost drowning at the moment but it’s a landscape I understand.  Unconsciously I found myself trying to interpret Manhattan from that perspective.  So imagine my delight, in Soho,  to see a reddish  mushroom, suspiciously like the rare and delicious beefsteak, growing on the base of a tree trunk.   Do these chichi little restaurants know they have gourmet food growing on their  doorstep? But maybe don’t take my word for it.

Numbered streets are very useful, especially to a stranger, but I come from a place where Butcher’s Lane, Plumber’s Hill, The Ladder and Cossack Square hint at history.  So I found Soho with its Spring Street and Wooster, Thompson and Prince homely.   Did I make it up that there’s a Silk Stocking District somewhere in New York?  I’d have liked to have had more time to visit it just to send postcards from there.  My priory was changing into an increasingly urgent need to find a ‘bathroom’, which fortunately coincided with hunger.  The Olive Tree Cafe in MacDougal Street fitted the bill perfectly with its dark-toned interior, arty feel, and solo table where I could sit and observe everyone without feeling like a sadass loner with a problem.

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I  highly recommend their middle eastern platter, the equal to the best that Hazel my belly-dance teacher produces.

Feeling the burn of a blister in the making, I consulted my map.  I figured that it wouldn’t take that long to walk down to Wall Street (shake a fist at the bastards there), and visit Ground Zero.  I didn’t want to go to the official visitors site and see the memorial exhibition, I just wanted to go and pay my respects on my own.  Like everyone everywhere, I remember what I was doing when the first plane hit.  Numb from the dentist in Gloucester, but wincing from the pain of the cost of replacing a crown, I put the car radio on and drove home.  As I pulled into my drive I heard the news, ran into the house, put on the TV and saw the second plane hit.

Here in the UK we are used to terror in our cities; it has been on our doorsteps for many years. There was no doubt in my mind that it was an attack even before the second plane.  The horror unfolded like a hideous disaster movie, and gripped me for days, months, years.  Look again closely at the snow globe, it has a special poignancy now.

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A shiver passed through me at Ground Zero, despite its being barricaded from the non-payers.  I saw ghost people running, covered in ash, imagined it soft yet needled with glass, around their ankles.  I could  taste it and feel it dry in my mouth.  I heard the cries of disbelief, choking, glass smashing …did I smell the acrid occur of fire?  I pictured the slow glide of the jumpers.

The streets are clean.  Where did all the ash go?  Wouldn’t it be full of remains of those poor people who didn’t make it out?  My heart felt weighted with the sorrow of it all, the angry, deluded young men, the forever-changed world.  Fear.  I gazed at the building works through the fence and up at the biggest ‘FUCK-OFF’ tower America could build, stabbing into the sky, defiant.  I didn’t want to be a gawping tourist but I needed to connect and pay my respects.  To understand how it has discombobulated New Yorkers, changed their expectations.  It was all too tragic to buy a badge and wear the tee shirt.  I craved a small quiet park where I could sit and remember.

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Wall Street? What was that to me in comparison?  A street.  A big bronze bull shining behind road work barriers.  A street of ticker-tape celebrations, or a street of cheats and messed up values?  It seemed small.  Insignificant.  I didn’t stay long.  But it was there that I met a person who could have shown me New York. If you haven’t heard of them before, I recommend the Greeters.  A kindly woman, of a certain age, dressed all in green, was advising an  Australian couple where to go next and struggling to find them a subway map.  I hovered around them when I heard the word ‘subway’.  (Be warned, download a map before you go because these are no-where to be found)

“You doing this on your own?” she asked, “well bully for you, fantastic.”

She did this once or twice a month out of the goodness of her heart.  She’d chosen who to guide that day –  that’s how it works.  If only I’d known about this option before I left!  All that angst, the fear and confusion…I could have had a local guide to help me figure it out.  Greeters operate all over the world.  I could set myself up as one in Nailsworth.  It wouldn’t take long, half and hour would get them around the main landmarks, the fountain,  the award winning bakers, the best ironmonger in the west.    Look up in Nailsworth and you’ll see a giant bronze kettle outside the opticians, here she pointed out elegant art deco statues decorating the City Hall.

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I asked her about the Statue of Liberty, which I’d failed to realise I would have had to book months previously to go inside to the top. Once again I pay the penalty of not being a ‘prepare before you go, research, kind of a person, so I am thrilled when she says “Take the Staten Island Ferry”, cheapest way to see it, its free. Get the next one back from the island, nothing to see there.”   This seemed like a very good way to finish the afternoon’s wanderings, especially as I hadn’t heard from Bernt, my nephew’s friend who I hoped would ring to arrange escorting me  for the evening.  Perhaps he had cold feet about shepherding a mystery aunt from the backwaters of an English village?  Maybe be expected me to wear a Miss Marple style card and a hat?  I bought a New York cheese cake and boarded.

New York reflections: ‘Wherever you go – there you are’ (Brazilian saying)

IMG_5482Monday morning and the red-eye rumbled out of Boston with the deliciously familiar ‘woo-woo’.  I grew up with trains at the bottom of my garden, but English trains can only toot.  Whilst my fellow, scant, passengers settled down to sleep, I got out my New York guide books to make a plan for the next three days.

Why do so many of the galleries close on a Monday?  Can’t the city that never sleeps sort this one?  Travel half way across the world to see art, two and a half days to do it in…and they close for one of them?  It seemed bizarre in the extreme, until I noticed from references in one of the books that it was years out of date.  Out of the window the coastline unfurled like a map.  Marshes, beaches, inlets, harbours, boats and herons flicked my eyes.  I wanted to read but I didn’t want to miss a single thing.  It was as if every hair on my skin had super-radar, no way could I sleep despite a night fizzing with anticipation,  sore eyes staring at the ceiling.

By the time we approached the outskirts of the city I had a plan.  Always one to make the best of a bad situation, I realised it wasn’t just art I wanted to see.  I wanted to drink in all the sights, but would content myself with a few gems.    That is what I’d do this first day, Monday.    The helpful HopStop app that had shrunk the city with walking times had inspired me: Walk/Don’tWalk ? Walk of course.  Get a flavour of Manhattan. (When I travel anywhere I am like a homing pigeon circling my space,  learning about where I’ve landed, clocking landmarks.)

I was nervous about the Airbnb.   Not just the bathroom situation; would I be able to find the apartment?  What if the host wasn’t there to let me in?  Why were there two mobile numbers for me to call?  Memories of being stuck in a receptionless, skuzzy hotel lobby in Ilfracombe, locked in the building, yet out of my room, promised key-holder absent, mobile out of range, fuelled my anxiety.

Look at the woman on the right…does she look streetwise?

Look at the woman on the right…does she look streetwise?

Penn Station is huge.  There is a main exit, but it has more exits than the badger sett in my garden.  I re-checked the map for the hundredth time.   I strode out of one with a ‘I know this city, I just happen to be trailing a suitcase because I’ve been away for the weekend’ walk . Out on the street it looked just like it did on Google Earth.  Everyone in England says New York looks familiar when you get there, it’s all the films we’ve watched.  This bit didn’t, except for the above, but it wasn’t a particularly salubrious area.  It wasn’t down at heel enough for an edgy boy movie with lots of gunfire, or smart enough for a Woody.  I would say it is a typical ‘railway station’ kind of area.  (Who would willingly live next to a train station other than a train spotter?)  Nevertheless  I was reminded of the Brazilian saying: ‘Wherever you go – there you are.’  No matter how much you get knotted up about going to a strange place, once you are there, it’s where you are.  Different climate, soil, birdsong or whatever – when you’re there you’re here.

I strode on muttering to myself, ‘9th and 23rd, 9th and 23rd.  Or was it 24th?’  I checked my map again.  I don’t like doing this in a strange place.  I might as well wear a sign saying TOURIST.  Compared to Britain where roads were built to go anywhere but straight, and are wide enough to  accommodate a  horse and cart, this should have been a breeze.  Failing to see the sun, my usual standby,  I asked a stranger,  and found I was walking north, not south.    (Memo to fellow New York explorers: take a compass, it’ll save you walking a block or two to check.)

IMG_5447In no time I found the building I was after, but not the smart apartment lobby I expected.  I called one of the numbers.  “I’ll come down and help with your case”, he said.   I soon learned the meaning of a walk-up.  I can’t say I wasn’t warned,  I’d checked out that it would be doable with a newly fixed knee. Relieved of  my small case it was still a challenge, especially behind a sprite young man, barefoot in teeshirt and boxers, who does this regularly.  Two flights for every floor, eight floors up.  I wanted the authentic New York experience: I was getting it.  It wasn’t quite what it said on the tin… The stairwell had dun coloured walls, with dark brown scuffed doors, repaired in places with metal sheets.  The carpet was threadbare and stained, but the apartment door needed a good push to open it and a kick to close it (just like home).

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“No spare keys, don’t lose them” said Adam, leading me into the corridor where I nearly tripped over a skateboard.  Monosyllabic to the point of rudeness, he led me into a sitting room (which looked smaller a lot of stuff had been photoshopped out of the ad). “Room’s not ready, won’t be ready till  2 0’clock.”  I’d not entertained that possibility, and forgotten it was only 10.30 in the morning.

” Can I leave my case somewhere safe?”

“Over there?”  he pointed to the corner of the room.

“Nowhere I can lock it away?” I asked acutely aware there are potentially 7 other guests.

“Never been a problem before, none of the rooms lock”.  I hadn’t wanted to carry my iPad around with me, but decided I probably should.

“Oh well, I’m out for the day anyway, I might be back late, can you show me where my room is?”

“Down there.”  He pointed down the corridor that ran at right angles – and sloped off to his room muttering.  “Just knock if you need anything” and that was it.

I knocked.  “Loo?  I mean, bathroom?”  “Over there.”  As he angled his shoulder out of the room  to point I saw a bed filling the room, piled chest high with stuff, and small computer table.  It had all the charms of a student flat, and he had the social skills of a 14 year old.  Far from the ‘meet the friendly locals, stay in a real home’ ‘Friends‘ kind of environment that I was expecting I found that, yes indeed, I was truly going to do New York on my own. Or possibly, not quite.  My nephew had deputed an old friend of his to spend the evening with this ageing English Aunt.  I didn’t know Bernt, but he sounded like he’d be fun, and I would at least have a native to show me the ropes on my first evening in New York.  I’d planned to go to a cocktail bar that had live jazz, I’d also heard that the Duplex Club in Greenwich Village (where  performers off Broadway go to unwind) was a wild place to spend the night.  Much as I thought I ought to give it a go, the thought of going there on my own didn’t really appeal.  My friend Tori said that it’s different in New York, strangers would talk to me – but considering my experience with the duplicitous Mr Prong in Bangkok I don’t have a very good track record.   And what about bedtime?  I’m not a three o’clock in the morning kind of person and my next two days would be packed.  10 o’clock and a hot water bottle is more like me.  I’d wait and see if Bernt called.

There was another contact.  Someone from my old school had seen my blog and said ‘hey, I live in New York City, are you going to come and see me?’  I was intrigued.  His picture on Facebook was a black and white picture of a hairyish man, naked to the waist and hiding his face with his arm in an arty kind of a way.  It didn’t give me a lot to go on.  I’d asked for a better picture, but still his face didn’t ring a bell.  I gave him a call.  I didn’t recognise the voice either, though the English public school accent fitted.  I described my tight schedule and arranged to meet the next day outside MOMA.  We’d have lunch together.

Out on the street, the sun didn’t shine, but I told myself that’s sometimes better for taking photographs.  If I understood my map correctly I could start my day with a visit to the wonderful Highline, a mile long linear park developed on a section of the former West Side Line railroad spur.  It was just around the corner. Inspired by the Parisian Promenade Plantéé it seemed to me to be the best use of an urban railroad track ever.  I wondered what it was like living next to nosy people like me getting a peek into your flat.  I bet Hopper would have loved it.  More of him later.

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I could have spent longer walking the Highline, admiring the subtle planting, but conscious that it was just one of the many things I wanted to see had to drag myself away from the breeze swishing the grasses and busy bees working the flowers.  I took a horizontal street, to make my way to the Flatiron. This impossibly svelte high rise, shaped like a Dairylee cheese wedge, is snuck into the pointy triangle between Broadway and Fifth Avenue. How it stays up is a mystery to me. No one in their right minds would design a building like this, but Daniel Burnham did, in the 1920s.  When it was finished it was the tallest building in the world and it started a trend.  I loved it.  I loved the pictures I’d seen of it.  I loved the story that when it first went up men used to hang around the outside waiting for  the winds it created to lift the girls’, skirts and show them a bit of ankle.  (My how times have changed.)

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Seeing it in the stone, unwavering, made me fall in love with it even more.IMG_5461Then I saw that the first room in the pointy bit at the base had been set up to advertise a special exhibition of Edward Hopper’s drawings at the Witney.  Two of my favourite things melded into one.  How cool was that?

The Diner by Hopper in the Flatiron

The Diner by Hopper in the Flatiron

Now I had arrived.  I was well and truly ‘here’.

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The man who invented snow: New York here I come.

People ask me what I do.  I say ‘I’m a writer’.  By which I mean I have an incredibly clean oven, the loo seat that used to slew off sideways when I sat down is now fixed, and the water butt that was banging around the garden in the recent storms is back in place, if somewhat leaky. Oh yes, when you are a writer the sourdough rises.

So, New York.  Just writing those words revives the feelings I first had when I decided to finally go.  To face my nemesis, my almost lifelong ambition.    I wanted the art.  I wanted the culture, and I wanted to make myself enter a world completely different from mine and know I could not only survive, but enjoy it.  Yet that one fact hung over me still.  The son of one of my teachers when I studied the Enneagram in California, was shot, for no reason, on the subway in New York.  I figured I could deal with rude natives (as it was rumoured here in anally politeBritain).  But what if I got lost? Wandered into the ‘wrong’ neighbourhood?   I was a mere three hour train ride from the city, ticket paid for, accommodation booked.  It wasn’t a fantasy any more, it was tomorrow’s challenge and whilst the noises were encouraging, there were some eyebrows being raised at the huge gathering of Jane’s relatives in Lexington when someone mentioned my plan.

“Wow, on your own eh?”

“Well good for you.”

“Oh you’ll be just fine” seemed to be the consensus   But then , “where did you say you were staying?”

IMG_5416Having inspected the walk-in wardrobe the size of my sitting room footprint and some. I could tell these people were not likely to pitch up in a hostel.  Certainly not since Uncle Phil (Tropeano, now 91) did a little experiment one day.  He was an agricultural engineer, trying to make a machine that would make fog (to cool vegetables) and whoopty-do came up with the first snow machine.

Phil and his brother impressed me greatly.  I want to grow old the way they  have, and at 91 and 90 I have a few years to practice.    Here’s Eddie texting his girlfriend in the old people’s home where he lives,  a picture of his cocktail.  How cool is that for a nonagenarian?  He has a plan, that worries the family slightly, to buy an RV so he can drive out to the coast in the mornings and have breakfast watching the ocean.  I can understand that, he used to be a Techie guy in Falmouth, Cape Cod.  I bet he misses the breeze.

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Uncle Eddie, texting his girlfriend

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Snowman Phil, with his brother Eddie

 Phil laughed generously at my recounting the joke the elderly Mr Holbrook used to make when asked how he was “well my dear, put it this way, at my age I don’t even buy green bananas”.  I tried to explain AirBnB to them.

“You stay in someone’s house.  People who have a spare room, let it out for a reasonable price – all done online”.  They looked impressed, especially when I said I was paying around £62 a night (faintingly cheap for New York).  However, when I said I would potentially be sharing the bathroom with 8 other people, a fact I’d only discovered the night before I left home, when all was signed, sealed and paid for, their expressions changed.  A bit like mine did when my host said “oh you won’t be the only guest, we actually have four double bedrooms for rent.”  Panicked, I’d emailed back immediately to ask the number of bathrooms, and discovered the do-not-disturbing truth.  Was this a cosy arrangement, with a pair of friendly New Yorkers  (gay men I hoped from the cleanliness of the apartment in the pictures), or was it a major business?  Still I’ve slept on everything from a mud floor in a desert bar in Morocco, to a tent with an elephant scratching it’s belly on the side.  Surely I could do an Air BnB in New York?

I was awake with the crack next morning and showering wondering if it would be my last for a day or two. Nick emerged in plenty of time to drive me into Boston for the 7 am train to New York.

The Horsley family has a  habit.  We never leave the house once.  It’s those moments when you’re half way down the path and you suddenly remember you left your phone behind.  Then your umbrella, shopping bags, or the directions to where you are going.  The worst of us can do it many times.  Ask Jane.  She’ll tell you.  Why is it that wallets get lost mainly when there is a pressing reason for them not to, like catching a plane, or taking the red-eye train to New York? We turned every corner of the house upside down.  Tipped out those areas  where things gather and conspire, lifted sofa cushions, looked in bins, in coat pockets, under and over the car seats and trunk –  we even checked the cutlery drawer.  “You’re efficient Nick, don’t you think it’ll be in your man-bag?”

“Nope, tried that”.

Sick with nerves that I’d miss my train, this went on for about half an hour…every so often me repeating my refrain.  This was my nightmare situation.  I hate arriving in a last minute dash.  Get stuck in traffic with a flight to catch?  I’d rather sleep on an airport bench.  I tend to arrive insanely early.  I set three alarms (watch, iPad and clock)  at increasing distances from my bed, and still I spend half the night awake and worrying I’ll oversleep.  (My ultimate alarm clock bought in a Bangkok supermarket the night I escaped from Mr Prong, has finally died a death.  A trumpeting cat figure that played reveille loudly, repeatedly declaiming WAKE UP, WAKE UP, until I hit the button, the eyes on the cat clicked open and it said “Goo Morning.” My my mainstay for 20 years,  I miss that clock. )

The most alarming clock

The most alarming clock

Nick found the keys.  They were in his man bag. Half an hour later he delivered a nervous wreck to the station just as boarding began. Ten minutes later we pulled out, with me reclining in the most comfortable train seat I’d ever experienced, settled on the left side, so that I could watch the coast all the way down to New York.  New York!  I was on my way.

Hunting witches in Marblehead and Salem: turkey on the lawn alas.

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I have a confession.  I have a witchy past (despite my parent’s best efforts with the Order of the Cross).  Ok, so it was only skirting around the shadows of witchcraft, playing Abigail in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, and a few spells in the chicken house with girlfriends, but boy did I relish the part. Having had my first 14 years imposed on by that repressive religion gave me a particular enthusiasm for the part.  At one point, Abigail (with a bunch of her teenage friends),  is accused of dancing with the devil in the woods, supposedly encouraged by Tituba the slave. (No ill-disguised racism there eh?)  It is a moment of high tension in the play.  For many seconds there is silence.  Then Abigail lets rip with a liver-curdling scream, pretending to be in a trance seeing birds in the rafters.  I gave it my all, slicing the silence with that  ear splitting pitch only young girls can achieve.  It was rather successful, startling the audience, and particularly my parents, and indirectly making my life take on a different course.

One of the parents in the audience was John Mortimer, the playwright.  I was in the same dorm at his daughter Sally at Frensham Heights boarding school.  She had been very helpful impersonating me sleeping soundly in my bed, only the top of her head showing, while I sneaked out to meet my boyfriend Chezzy in the woods. (We’d speed across the Hog’s Back to Guildford on his Lambretta to watch Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds at the RickyTick club.)  After the play Sally’s Dad came to congratulate me and said to my parents “she must go on the stage”.  Not ‘should’ you note.  Previously my parents put their feet down on any theatrical ambitions of mine.  “You’ll have to sleep with the directors” argued my mother.  ‘So?’ I thought.  But John Mortimer?  He was God.  He was Rumpole of the Bailey.

It was tantalizing knowing Salem was only about half an hour away from Nick and Jane’s in Marblehead.  I dropped lots of hints about going there, but Jane kept insisting there really was nothing to do there.  The witch museum was rubbish, and the only other point of interest there was the House of Seven Gables.  She could give me a lift, she works there, but what would I do with the rest of the day?  Still I couldn’t let go of the idea.

You would not believe how complicated it is to arrange public transport to Salem from Marblehead.  Wasn’t this a tourist area, even if the native’s didn’t want to bus it?  I  considered walking, but that’s not possible in America the way it is here in the UK.

I remember once suggesting to my ex that I walk from his father’s house in Woodside north to San Francisco.

“You want to WALK?  WALK to San Francisco?”

“Sure, why not?  It’s only 30 miles.”

“You can’t.  There’s no trail.  You’d have to walk on the highway.”

I was pretty unnerved by their 12 lane highways when I first

saw them and this argument figured with me.  I was always amazed that car hire firms would hand over the keys to a 13 hour jet-lagged Brit, and say ‘have a nice day mam’.   No, in America land is property.  It’s not like here where you can wander almost freely on footpaths, which are all over the place, and the owners have to put up with it.  They might plough up a few paths to deter you, but most people, should you get lost and wander on to their property, just point you back in the right direction.  It’s not like you’d get shot.

Nick and I had a walk around Redd’s pond that evening.

Redds Pond

Wilmot Redd, or ‘Mammy Redd’ as she came to be known, was, as far as I can tell, a ‘crabbit old woman’.  She had lived in a small house on the South East corner of the pond in Marblehead in the 1600s.  Her husband, Samuel Redd, was a fisherman.  She put the local women’s back up, it seems, just by being a bit cranky.  Her fate was sealed when she was accused during the Salem Witch Trials of “detestible acts called Witchcraft and Sorceries, wickedly, mallitiously and ffelloniously (sic) used, practised and exercised at the towne of Salem”.  So far, so Daily Mail.  She denied it, but was sentenced to be “hung by the neck until she is dead”.  On the 22nd September 1692 she and seven other women were hung on Gallows Hill, Salem.

Nick must have noticed my disappointment, because next day we went to Salem.  As we passed the witchcraft museum,  Nick and Jane repeated “It’s crap, you really don’t want to go there.”   But I was delighted to see this sign on the grass nearby:

Sign in Salem park

How wonderful that they are educating witches in Salem.  I wonder what the Tea Party thinks about that?

We went instead to the House of Seven Gables.  This is a pretty interesting house, I suspect.  ‘I suspect’ because we met the worst guide ever there.  Maybe it was her first day?

“Was William  Hathorn (the original owner of the house) married?”

“Good question.  Ha.  Yes, that’s a really good question.  I really don’t know.  Probably.”

Downstairs there was a table full of fascinating old things from the colonial period – probably.

“Would that be a wax candle maker?” I asked.

“Wow.  I never really noticed that before.  Good question, no-one’s ever asked that question before.”

Her other tactic, other than praising our questions, but not actually answering them, was “I’m going to answer that question in the next room”.  Needless to say, she never did.  Or she’d say “I know, it’s confusing”.  Spot on there.

We shuffled out none the wiser.  It was a nice house.  Lovely garden.  If you have time to spare in Salem I’d recommend a visit, but if I were you I’d mug up on the history before you go.  Apparently the book The House of Seven Gables written by Nathaniel Hawthorne (b. July 4th 1804), a relative of the first owner who fictionalised those times, is very informative, and groundbreaking.   Nathaniel added a ‘W’ to his name to distinguish himself from Colonel John Hathorne, another rellie.  John Hathorne was a JP who who presided over the Salem Witch Trials.  Despite being one of the first pilgrims, who had escaped religious persecution, he had a thing about Quakers.  He used to regularly beat them up, or rather, have them beaten up.  No wonder Nathaniel wanted that ‘W’.

The garden of the House of seven Gables, Salem

The garden of the House of seven Gables, Salem

The House of Seven Gables colonial mansion, built 1668, Salem

The House of Seven Gables colonial mansion, built 1668, Salem

The rest of the afternoon we spent at a pumpkin and farm with extensive apple orchards, a classic Halloween thing to do.  The apples were big and crisp and even.  Perfect for display – but flavour-wise give me a good old English Coxes Orange Pippin.

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Essex Radio Station

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The journey home was not uneventful.  First we passed Essex Radio Station, obviously a happening place with its finger on the pulse, and then, to my absolute delight, we saw a turkey strolling about, without so much as a by-your-leave, on someone’s front lawn.  It’s hard to convey the size of the thing from the picture, but I would say it might intimidate a labrador.   I hope it knows where to hide in December.

Turkey on the lawn, alas

Turkey on the lawn, alas

In Boston the Buddhas smile, but were Hippies really that chic?

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Lost on the Boston Harbour Walk

Blissfully aware that it was Friday the 13th and that this was, in ancient times, a power day for women (was it guys, d’you think that spread the rumour of bad luck?) , I selected my route to the Museum of Fine Arts from Aquarium via the Boston harbour walk.  It was my second day in town, and I was thirsting for art.  I’d managed to shake off the bad taste left by the girl in Urban Outfitters the day before:  “CLOSE THE DOOR.”  I did an about turn and, morphing into a snotty Englishwoman snapped “the phrase is PLEASE close the door.”  I guess the heat got to us both.

The harbour walk is intriguing; who owns these fancy boats?  Do they fret over never finding enough time to spend on them like people with holiday homes?  Or is it just one way to splash out their zillions so it doesn’t pile up too much.  Do they wake thinking ‘there’s nothing I really need or want today’ or do they wonder what happiness-trinket they can buy?  There aren’t so many Bill and Melinda’s, I fear.  Boats like these must cost a packet just to park up.  Then there’s the staff, the gold taps, scrubbing brushes for the decks, bikini clad lovelies etc let alone the cost of actually going somewhere.   Still, it’s better than hoarding your pee in jars , or leaving your toenails unclipped and curling like a goat’s Howard.  IMG_5326

I got lost.  I always do.  Some people plan their journeys scrupulously.  I wing it.  Somehow I managed to turn “no problem getting to MoFA, just follow the Harbour Walk and there you are” to a hot and bothered realization that if that were true I should have found it an hour ago.  Sometimes you want to climb up a hill to see where you are, especially among the skyscrapers.  It’s amazing how many Bostonians don’t have a clue where their best asset is.  When I did finally arrive, and saw the size of the museum I immediately regretted my strategy.  I didn’t need a day, I needed a week.  More organised people would have catalogued the art they saw in a little notebook, and be far more informative.  I have to apologise.  All I can do is show you pictures of some of my favourite pieces of art, and hope it inspires you to go to this aptly named museum.

My appetite had been whetted by adverts all around town for the ‘Hippy Chic ‘exhibition currently showing.  I have hippy credentials, but you know how they say ‘if you remember the 60s you obviously weren’t there?’ That doesn’t really apply to me.  I remember them well.  I did my best to conform with the non-conformity, I even inhaled, but only socially, like I might share a bottle of wine with friends now.  It wasn’t a lifestyle choice to live in a fug  of marijuana and procrastination.  I had too many nappies (diapers) to change.  I had my first baby when I was 23, and like to think I was a responsible mother.  I breastfed, but only till they were about 6 months old, not until they could toddle up and ask for it before they went to school.  I thought at one time it would be interesting to try LSD, but only if a responsible person would mind the children for 4 days.  I couldn’t find one.  Then I looked up the effects of LSD in one of my father’s medical books and found it produced a so-called ‘pink spot’ in urine just like they find in schizophrenics. That was enough to put me off.  I don’t suppose a real hippy would have been.  However, it does mean any comments I make about the exhibition are from someone who had a clear perception at the time.  Now, honestly, did any of the people you know look like this?

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IMG_5341See the bag she’s holding?  That’s Biba.  I still have my Biba dress, it’s somewhere in the attic in the grandchildren’s dressing up box.  It was a floor length purple sleeveless vest (that’s an English vest, not American) and it came from the original  shop round the back of High Street Kensington (someone’s front room fitted out with old fashioned wooden hat stands).  It cost eighteen shillings, which at the time was just under a pound.  I wore it bra-less, though I only just fitted the criteria we used then: if you can hold a pencil under your breast without it falling down you are not pert enough to go bra-less.  This dress is very lovely, but it wasn’t on the streets of Gloucester at the time, or even the London  I remember.

Look at the hair on these guys.  All the models in the exhibition had white hair.  Maybe they were appealing to those of us who were hippies at the time, and like me are snow white now – but it wasn’t what we looked like then and the image jars.  Hippies had natural coloured hair or hennaed hair.  Even the bleaching was from hanging out in the sun in parks or the first free festivals getting stoned.  Hair dyes weren’t available like they are now.

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Well, almost unavailable.  Old ladies went in for purple or pink rinses on their  permed grey hair in those days.  Most didn’t even wash their own hair.  They would go for a shampoo and a set to the hairdressers once a week.  (What happy days those must have been for hairdressers.) It would be set like concrete, stiff with spray, just like a pan cleaner with a faint hint of mauve or pink.  Hippies let it all hang out.  We didn’t use hairdressers.  A few went in for frizzy afros, but the rest of us just grew it.  However, I went through a phase of mixing undiluted purple and pink rinse and achieving a maroon streak in my tangle of sun bleached mousey hair.  Being at a ballet school, with access to stage make up I also went in for green eyebrows and lashes.  I used a tin of Caron D’Ash pastel crayons to improvise wild eyeshadow.  Come to think of it, I was way ahead of my time.  I dyed  Aunty Mamie’s old silk stockings magenta and green.  In winter I wore a long white crochet version of an Afgan coat (all the rage) and a tiny shetland jumper that just covered my breasts and left my midriff bare to my low slung loons even when it was way below freezing.  Hippies I knew improvised, but maybe I just mixed in the wrong circles.   I don’t remember smart hippies like these.

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These were some of my favourite paintings and sculptures

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Someone having a very bad dayIMG_5349

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Probably Paul Revere

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Right sort of wind, wrong sort of weather, Wonderland

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Jane at the helm, trying to steer a straight course

What’s that about a picture being equal to a thousand words?  Much as I dreaded the return trip to Marblehead, with the possible nightmare of another 8 hours throwing up, I discovered that even though we were being tilted almost flat against the sea, it was the right sort of wind.  No churning, just simple rocking courtesy of a helpful tailwind.  Bracing my, somewhat too short, legs against the opposite bench I  was flung intermittently across the boat until I selfishly hunkered down in one corner, semi-sheltered by the awning  from the battering wind and rain, filling up on cheesy goldfish.  Nick or Jane braved it out at the wheel.

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I got to thinking what would happen if one of us were tipped out?  What if both of them were tipped out?  I didn’t have a clue how to use the radio phone, or even how to turn around and fish them out.  I’m not usually one to catastrophize  but couldn’t help remembering a Buddhist friend who was electrocuted on his boat scarcely a year ago, leaving his wife floundering about at sea. Would Jane be able to sail alone if anything happened to Nick on their journeys?  I worried even more when Jane, sans lifejacket,  wearing socks and no shoes, clambered onto the prow to release another sail.  Scanning the ocean for whales made it worryingly obvious how very, well, empty, it is.

Sickness, on the other hand, was well under control.  I’d breakfasted handsomely, toasting on the barbecue (which I was heartened to find is attached to one of the metal rails at the back of the boat, well away from combustibles).  This time I hope I was encouraging company if not any actual use.  The return was shortened by not diverting via the Stellwagen Bank, and that tail wind.  By the time we arrived back at the Boston Yacht Club in Marblehead the weather had calmed, the sun shone and we had an easy time dismantling our stay on the boat.  We hadn’t seen any whales on the return trip, but were satisfied with the sitings we’d had on the way down and from the Dolphin boat.

Jane and Nick returned to work next morning and I had the rest of the week to revisit Boston.  I wanted to take a look at the harbour.  Was I really right that the big international jets, that had thrilled me so much, fly right over the sailing boats?  I last visited Boston with my American husband back in the 1980s, staying with his cousin in a mini mansion in the suburbs.  What I remember most, however, was a lot of mention by his cousin  about what she pronounced ‘boofalow’ mozzarella.  I got the impression that this was a very special mozzarella, only available in Boston and of incomparable taste.  I discovered that like most mozzarella it is more a texture than a taste until it gets melted onto a pizza, when it tastes just like – mozzarella.  This time I wanted to see art.  (Actually I wanted to see his cousin for a coffee, but she was too busy.  I guess looking up an ex’s family is not necessarily such a great idea.)

Catching the Boston bus from Marblehead first thing in the morning I was the only passenger.

 “You from London?” shouted the lady driver to where I sat, half way down the bus.

“No, the West Country.  Nailsworth.”  Why do they always say London?    “Near Bath”.

“D’you remember that series about the hippy guys living in the flat?”

“The Young Ones?”

” That’s right.  I loved that.  Coronation Street?”

“Not my thing I’m afraid”

” Are You Being Served?”  Good grief.  What must she think about us?75c took me all the way to Wonderland.

I had great hopes of Wonderland, who wouldn’t?  But it seems it’s time has come and gone.  Built in 1906 it was believed to be the inspiration for Disney Land.  By 1911 it was bankrupt and was turned into a Greyhound park in 1935.  However it does have the Wonderland Ballroom on the North Shore road.  Sadly that doesn’t  get very good reviews.  GloR says “its the worst venue I’ve ever been too.  Ceiling falling off, security worst in history.  Only place I’ve ever been to where Security breaks up fights and lets the people stay in there…don’t go to this place unless you want to witness fights all night.  Tristan B has a helpful hint “if you’re going to see a show here IT’S NOT GOING TO SELL OUT” and suggests you skip the crappy support bands.

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The Old State House, Boston

All I did in Wonderland was buy a Charlie Card, with some difficulty (is there a Plain American campaign?), to get out, and took a train ride to Aquarium by Boston harbour. The temperature was nudging  90°.  It would have been a very good idea to go to an art gallery and take advantage of some air conditioning. Finding there were free guided tours of the Freedom Trail with a Boston National Park Ranger I ended up speeding through the Quincy Market to the meeting point.  I suppose it’s not the poor man’s fault that the ‘trail’ lasted only a couple of blocks.  It took in the Old State House where the revolution was kindled, and where the declaration of independence was read from the balcony.  After that it didn’t really go anywhere of note.  Every few minutes our ranger would stop his talk,  remove a water bottle from his bag, take a slug and say “hydrate folks, remember to hydrate. Take care folks, walk reeeeal slow and careful.”  A natural fast walker and information sponge, the slow pace drove me insane. (I am guessing Texas would not be my place.)

I decided to pass on the afternoon free tour, and take a ride on a Duck boat round the harbour instead.  It sounded cool and refreshing – rather James Bond, splashing into the harbour in a vehicle that could morph into a boat.  (Little did I know that the news in the UK was that a Duck boat had got into trouble on the Thames,  caught on fire, creating a big panic and a rescue; a second one followed with a sinking a week or so later.)  A  ‘history tour’ around town first was included, so it seemed like it would fit the bill (no pun intended) nicely.

I hadn’t anticipated the woman in the seat behind me.  Here she is, caught in the moment when she’s answering the call from what I gathered was her sister. This, in a very loud voice, so we could all share:

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The woman behind in the Duck Boat

“Well I know, I know.  He’s constipated.  He’s probably impacted. Yes.  Yes.  Well go and get some glycerine suppositories.  Feel his belly.  You can probably feel it in his belly?  Give it a prod.  No, only one.  Just try one and see what happens.  No, I said GLYCERINE SUPPOSITORY.  You don’t want to give him diarrhoea.”  And as if that wasn’t enough, she had to repeat the conversation over and over.  Did her sister not get it?  Or was she trying to tell us all what a burden it was caring for her father and how much more she knew about it than her sister?  If it was sympathy she wanted it was wasted on me.  All my sympathy went to the poor man having his embarrassing symptoms shared full volume on a Duck Boat.

Duck Boat Boston Harbour

Duck Boat Boston Harbour

Provincetown, Queen of Cape Cod, with knobs on

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Oh my.  The phallic tower of the Pilgrim Monument announces Provincetown appropriately.   Arriving there is like being launched into a gay pride march, only, thrill of thrills, the day we arrived happened to coincide with the Lambda Car Club rally.  Not just any vintage car rally, a rally of the cars of my dreams.  Since I was  about eleven I have swooned over Elvis and I dreamed of owning a car with wings, preferably pink, but anything pastel would do.  The closest I got was a series of Morris Minors (which are not really a car for a soggy country; I know of a man who wrote his thesis on the flora and fauna of a Morris Traveller, the half timbered variety) but they have a particular charm, a certain smell, and an unmistakeable voice of their own.  This rally of 50s American cars made me almost weep with envy.  Pink, sky blue, orange – winged, bedecked with rainbow flags, and fabulous guys dressed to match.  If the drivers of the orange car with the blow up model in a headscarf in the backseat wish to replace her with flesh and blood, I’m your woman.

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My only beef was the beef who kept getting in the way every time I tried to photograph these gorgeous hunks of metal.

I play a ‘which would I steal’ game in galleries and museums (though in truth I could no more actually do it than steal a paperclip).  This sky blue one is a strong contender, closely followed by the pink winged.IMG_5184

These guys were having such fun.  My friend says ‘every mother should have one’ (about her gay son) the pride is all hers.  I can see why. Nowadays, since most straight people have grown up and got over themselves, gay men are having a blast.  It was not always thus (I recommend Stephen Fry’s excellent documentary on the history) and Provincetown seems to be their mecca.  The population statistics are telling:  3,562 residents in winter, 30,000 summer visitors.  Not all of them are LGBT of course.  We all want to have fun.

The accessory du jour In Procincetown is what I call ‘armpit warmers’.  Little dogs that once upon a time would have snuggled into arm pits clothed in mink, downing cocktails with ‘mummy’.  Pampered pooches  have reached new heights of indulgence in the gay community.  Cooed over, beribboned, collars a-sparkling, you wonder if some of their little paws ever reach the ground.  I saw several being wheeled around in dog carts, some even had prams,Image

see the green one in this picture?  It might contain a child, but that’s not what’s in there.  All I can say is that I wish them walks.  Mud.  Waves to splash in, and bones as big as a fist.

Talking of fists, bend your arm and take it out to your side.  Now make a fist and curve it right over.  This is the shape of Cape Cod, sticking out of the East Coast of America somewhere between Boston and New York.  Provincetown sits in the curve of the thumb where it joins the palm.  Behind it are rolling dunes; pure Edward Hopper landscapes, with lone lighthouses, and windswept clapboard houses.  (That is, Edward Hopper in his beach-time holiday mode, not his peeping-tom city mode

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Now I haven’t cycled for quite a few years, though my last bike did have gears (rather inconveniently placed somewhere low on the frame).  It rested in the shed, a promise of a fantastic arse and super-fitness, but really just a rusting guilt trip.  However I was up for a bike ride on the dunes, as long as I could walk up all the hills (but probably best not to tell the surgeon who hoovered out my knee a few months back).

What better way to cool off after a long ride through cranberry beds (Nick: yes, they’re cranberries.  Me: are you sure?  I survived, so I suppose they were) than a dip in the ocean on the north side of the fist.

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Then Jane saw this sign.  But why would we let a silly little thing like a Great White Shark spoil a lovely dip – especially as I’d missed out on one off the boat in the middle of the atlantic.  Besides, I didn’t think a Great White would mistake me for a seal considering my neon-bright costume.  (Thank you Sandra Dee, it was a good exchange for the scrape on my new car.  She does mail order lingerie by the way, and for all those trannies among you, she can accommodate all shapes and sizes).

Funnily enough, there were very few other swimmers. Do you hear the music?
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Back in town, knees intact, butt intact, and relishing the thrill of once again defying death (Vee: I’m not coming on holiday with you, you court danger)  We loaded up on pizza and chilled beer with a slice of lemon (bet that’s making a few englishmen cringe)  and planned a fun night out.  Would it be Lip Schtick ‘One Boys Journey to Fabulous and Back’ or Electra ‘Living the Legend’ at the Post Office Cabaret? It’s obvious now, but I hadn’t realised Bette Midler was a gay icon.  Electra did a very fine job of impersonating her, though it would have been a lot more electrifying if I’d known some of Bette’s songs, been a little less straight, and the seats a little less hard for a saddle sore bum.  However we particularly liked the bit at the very end when Bette morphed into Elton John.  How clever, we thought, then remembered he was a man. Watch a drag artist long enough and you forget.

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Lip Schtick

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Electra, Living the Legend