New York Anniversaries
In a City Re-emerging
‘Twas supposed to be a sunny, celebratory spring weekend in NYC. A gift to my beloved for our anniversary as a tiny token of appreciation for all he’s done these past few months for my mother. Instead, my (pre-paid) ideas of a bottle of champagne watching the sunset on a boat off Pier 22 got rained out. And then I got sick and am now sounding like the hoarse-voiced woman I will one day become (you can see a premonition of her presence in the photo above). Waking this morning groggy and speechless, I apologised to hubby for his having a sick wife for our special weekend. Ever the charming British gentleman, he immediately bounced back with “the important thing is having a wife at all.” The advantages of marrying an old bachelor is that the bar is set pretty low. Which is good because this weekend low is where it’s gonna be at.
Which, of course, is one of the astonishing joys of marriage. That you can sink into a sorry-for-yourself mess and slide back under the covers of your hotel room and know that your better half will take on the ancient hunter-gatherer role bred into his genes and psyche and find some breakfast. The absurdly expensive hotel only ungraciously offers cardboard croissants under plastic wrap, so he has to venture further afield. He brings back a croissant and coffee from the fancy Dominique Ansel ‘workshop’ down the street. Better, if as over-hyped as just about everything else in this crazy town.
New York post (sort of) pandemic (numbers are sky-rocketing again, and I’m awaiting the result of my latest test) is a strange place. There is the slightly desperate excitement of humans re-emerging after years of isolation, sending the decibels in restaurants screaming northwards, a very effective age barrier to anyone over 50. There are empty shopfronts dotted about the city, reminding of the decimation that so recently swept through. There are the crazy prices that make a weekend in the city about the same price as a week in a faraway Bahamian paradise. There is the tipping policy that frustrates my French-born daughter with its capitalistic feeding frenzy for ever more in ever more ways. Buy a bottle of water and the machines that collect your cash will ask you to tip the person who hands it to you. Yesterday, I was queuing at the pharmacy with a bagful of drugs watching what Americans now call service: three automatic self-serve check-out stations between me and nasal relief. One wasn’t working, and the humans trying to check out from the other two were struggling haplessly. The drugstore had one person keeping an eye on the debacle and trying to help. It took far longer than a single cashier of yore woudda taken. I watched in disbelief, like an off-Broadway theatre-of-the-absurd play of where we were headed.
Human interaction is on its way out. In New York, that won’t mean any particular loss of graciousness, as the locals seem to have lost some of their fun, wise-cracking ways. Everyone feels a bit under pressure, a bit suspicious of your request, while the young folk cramming the cafes feel forced to laugh loudly to cancel out the inequality everywhere on display. We watched a tiny handful of soggy young women (only a single man among them) parade up Broadway in a pro-abortion march. The poor, the crazy and the homeless wander the streets in a vaguely threatening way, weaving among the pretty girls in designer statements. The men are conforming to a slob-like vestimentary vocabulary, sometimes raised to self-consciously ragged heights to signal that they are truly above fashion statements. We witnessed a young couple get engaged in the middle of a chic Soho restaurant, go outside to call their parents and flash a ring, and then settle back, slightly chastened, into their entrée. Daughter, husband and I watched this in some dismay, saddened that this might be what he thought was romantic. Life as the dessert course.
A column in the Financial Times calls New York “a metropolis that is both fraying and rejuvenating itself simultaneously.” This afternoon, we are off on a boat to get a bit of a distance from the whole with an architectural tour of the city. We will surely hear about the new super-slim towers that are becoming the symbol of an individualistic, success-oriented culture pushing to new heights. We have long loved this town, and return with pleasure to walk the High Line, trawl through the Village, check out the mammoth museums and admire the city that never stops rebuilding and reinventing. We are delightedly hanging out with our beloved daughter who now calls this metropolis home. She’s entering her Second Quarter this week (what I call Q2, from age 26-50).
And that, we conclude, is probably the right age for this town.