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Thursday, March 31, 2005


John Wilkes Booth Had A Point?: The Horrors of the Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center is a large mall-like object located next to Columbus Circle, on 59th Street and Central Park West. (The SW corner of the park). The upper floor appears to be devoted to jazz, and since musical wanking does not appeal to me, I gave this area a miss. (Besides, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have let me in without a necktie).

The only other bar in this place is called the Stone Rose. This BTW was the name of a talentless but inexplicably popular Britband of the early 1990s: imagine a very, very buggy beta version of Oasis. The parallel is not gratuitous: the Stone Rose is a very, very buggy beta version of a lounge bar. Specifically, it is the very, very buggy beta version of the piano bar on the top floor of the London Hilton (a bar in NYC beaten out by a bar in la cita dolente! Oh, the humanity!)

My first impression was that this place was reminiscent of the style bars in Camps Bay, Capetown, with the difference that the Camps Bay bars have a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean, whilst this place has a stunning view of... a traffic circle. The drinks are overpriced ($8 for a small Heineken, which BTW the bar staff snatched away half-full when my back was turned), but that wouldn't be a problem if the clientele was good. The clientele was not good. We're talking rotund warpigs, 4s who think they're 9s, mutton dressed up as... mutton. (Another difference from Camps Bay: Camps Bay attracts genuine hotties; the Stone Rose set are lukewarmies, if that).

I sat down on a stool by the window and scanned the room. After a couple of minutes one of the bar staff came up and told me "Excuse me, we need this stool." I was so shocked that I let him take it.

You know, one thing that has surprised me about NYC is the general level of courtesy and politeness, which is far higher than London. NYC of course has a legendary reputation for rudeness and I wondered where it had happened to all this famous attitude. Now I know. The bar staff at the Stone Rose have apparently sucked all the rudeness out of Manhattan and are using it themselves. It's safe to say that pigs will fly over the frozen landscape of hell before I go back to the Stone Rose.

(Though this is actually not the worst bar I have ever been in. There was that one place in my hometown of Necktie (the Sewer of Scotland) filled with foul-smelling oldsters crazed on Tennants Eighty-Shilling (a beer that tastes exactly the same going down as it does coming back up). On the whole, I'd rather be in the Stone Rose).

But I would far rather be in the place I went to take the taste of the Stone Rose out of my mouth. It's called Snafu, and it's just off Lex somewhere in the high 40s (I think). This is what a bar should be: relaxed with vibe. It's vaguely out of place on that somewhat-nothing part of the East Side, but if you're in the neighbourhood, well worth a visit. (Apart from anything else, the girls are way better looking than at Stone Rose).


Sunlight in Manhattan

Tuesday evening I ate in the oyster bar under Grand Central station (a pretty good place if you feel like a few mollusks) and went on to the Upper West Side. I was still feeling low-energy and I figured that the Upper West was a low-energy neighbourhood. I was right. And how. (I'm told I may be the only person to have ever voluntarily gone to the Upper West in search of nightlife. I didn't find any).

On Wednesday, for the first time since I arrived here, the sun shone. There is something wonderfully depucelatory about the first sunny day of spring, especially when it's a day like yesterday when the sky is solid blue, the air is still cold and the sun shines brighter and clearer than you've ever remembered it. In the sunny patches of the street it was actually warm.

I spent the day failing to do touristy things. Went to the Empire State Building: two hour line to get in. I think not. There is almost nothing that can motivate me to stand in line for two hours if I can possibly avoid it. (I'd do it for a large sum of money, of course. After my succession of Sucky Jobs I've become hardened to doing vile and degrading things for economic payoffs).

After that, I went down to Battery Park. The wait for a ferry to Liberty Island was, you guessed it, two hours. (Bad trend developing here...) It seemed like a pity to spend such a wonderful day indoors, so I figured I'd go on the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan island. However, I got to the pier around 2.30. The last full cruise leaves at 1.30 (who knew?). They do shorter "semi-circle" cruises, but I couldn't be bothered. Instead, I went down to the Brooklyn Bridge and got some shots of the skyline.

In the evening, I met up with Jack (a friend of Mybrotherthelawyer) who just recently moved to NYC. Over steaks in the hokeyly Aussie Outback Steakhouse, we talked about his impressions of the city, which were nearly all good. (He did complain about the rents. He's just about to move into a three-bed brownstone apartment in the Village, sharing with a friend, and between them they can just afford it. This from an executive at JPMorgan).

Ten pm came rolling round. Jack, who had to be in the office at 7.30 the next morning, went home. At his suggestion I headed off to check out the Lincoln Center. The results of that check deserve their own post.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


xj About Town

Braving the Deluge, I went down to the West Village and had a Korean barbecue, then went in search of a bar called the Blind Tiger that my Lonely Planet guide assured me was all that. Remarkably enough for a venue listed in an LP guide, this bar actually exists. It's not so much a target-poor as a target-nonexistent environment (on a stormy Monday night at least) but I got into an interesting conversation with a marketing guy from Intel who was in town (from Boston) for a few days.

Woke up this morning feeling the effects of the rain and a beer called Brooklyn Pilsner, which is all right but has a rather odd aftertaste. The damn rain had stopped at least, so after checking my emails (I've cold-mailed a few agencies and I asked my friend Annabel to try to fix me up with an interview at her old bank here in NY - none of these people have got back to me yet however), I decided to do the sights.

I wandered vaguely around Chinatown and the edges of the Lower East Side for a couple of hours before breaking for some dimsum. (This was a weird experience. Portions were huge and for some reason, they didn't have soy sauce but did have Worcestershire. Fusion cuisine?)

Then down to the financial district. It's visually breathtaking, but it would take a better writer than me to make I wandered around photographing a load of very tall buildings interesting to the reader. The Wall Street area is the most crowded I've yet seen Manhattan, and even then the crowds are not half as dense as in London. (There are parts of la cita dolente, eg around Piccadilly or Oxford Circuses, that make me feel like I'm trapped inside Soylent Green. Yet another reason to leave...)

(I was expecting Wall Street to be bigger. Instead it's a narrow little canyon of a place. Of course a load of the big banks have moved uptown - Morgan Stanley and Bear Sterns, that I know of, and probably others).

Finally, I went up to the Frick collection, which is housed in the former mansion of the late Mr Frick. (And I don't know how he can have stood to live so ridiculously rococo a residence. It must have been like living inside a gold-plated cuckoo clock). The collection has the usual semi-talented Renaissance daubings. (Ever look at the faces on one of these Quattrocentro "masterpieces"? The expressions are nearly always inappropriate and often hilariously so. You'll find pictures themed "Adoration of the Magi" where the Magi have expressions of fixed disgust plastered across their features, or Pietas where the women look, on the whole, kind of relieved. I really don't see the point of Renaissance painting).

The Frick has, however, three treasures: three glorious Vermeers, snapped up by Old Man Frick back in the day when everyone thought Rembrandt was the Old Master and Vermeer was underrated. You'll find details of these magnificent paintings here, and all I will say is that the Officer and the Girl is simply beautiful.

Monday, March 28, 2005


Ground Zero

Last night I wandered all over Midtown trying to find an internet cafe, and it turns out that I just missed a huge easyeverything just off Times Square, which is where I am blogging from now.

It is raining today like you wouldn't believe. I've never seen such rain, not even in Glasgow. A good day to go to the museums, perhaps, except that this is Monday and they are closed. (I wonder why museums close on Monday? The fish shops in Scotland used to all close on Monday but that was because the trawlers operated out of the Western Isles where they were all too superstitious to put to sea on "The Lord's Day". Now of course all the fishing boats in British waters are operated by Spaniards (thanks, EU) so the problem doesn't arise).

Instead of culture then, I went for couture. I did the British tourist thing and went down to Century 21 to score a load of cheap clothes.

Century 21 is a few steps away from Ground Zero.

I stood at the edge of the site and quietly said the prayer for the dead. It seemed like the thing to do. I was not as moved by actually being there as I had expected; less moved than when I saw the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam. I wonder why. Maybe because the site itself is, when all is said and done, just another hole in the ground. (There is the cross that was formed from the splintered rebars, which I dare say Christians would be very impressed by, but to me it's two pieces of metal set at ninety degrees, and that's all). Like the man said, it's not there any more. I can get a feeling, from looking up at the Woolworth or Chrysler Buildings, what it must have been to look up at the Towers when they were still standing, but it's just not visceral to me, the way I guess it would have been if I had spent years seeing those towers on the skyline and the suddenly... not.

Walking away I caught sight of the Wall of Heroes and, more on a whim than anything else, looked for the names of people I'd once met.

And I found one.

He was a moneybroker at Cantors - Cantors in London, based in London when I knew him, but it's quite possible he was transferred to Cantors New York, which of course lost something like two-thirds of its people on 9/11. Don't get me wrong, it's not like we were close friends or anything. To me he was that nasal voice on the squawk-box yelling things like "Ones yen three at six, four bid now, four at six!" and the one time we actually met (so he could buy me some drinks as a bribe for more business) he spent most of the evening talking about various cruel and unusual things he had done to some unfortunate prostitutes. But still...

It just hit me, that was all, that someone I knew was murdered by the terrorists. I always knew it could have been me, but somehow, seeing that name up on the Wall makes it more real.


First Impressions of New York

-Queens is no prettier than its reputation. It reminds me a little of Glasgow, and that's no good thing.
-Manhattan OTOH is breathtaking. I ended up staying in Murray Hill, which is up next to the UN (I'm not a twelve-year-old Congolese girl so I guess it's a safe neighbourhood for me). It's actually quite quiet, at least on Sunday evening it is. The hotel I originally booked into was up on W 103rd, which they referred to as "the Upper West Side" and everyone else in the universe refers to as "Morningside Heights", at any rate a few blocks south of Columbia U. This hotel was a third the price of the one I'm staying in. After booking I checked the place out on tripadvisor.com, and discovered there were a number of reasons the 103rd St hotel was so cheap. They weren't good reasons. (The hotel market in NY seems depressingly efficient). So I switched.
-Kirsty MacColl (?) was right: the wind _does_ go right through you. I may have to buy a scarf.
-Almost impossible to find internet cafes in this city, it seems. I'm writing this from a Kinko's on 34th and (I think) Madison, and paying through the nose for the privilege. _And_ my business school email doesn't work, (as usual)...


Lost my Virginity...

Everyone I know in London raves about Virgin Atlantic. (That should have warned me. Things that Brits think are jolly marvellous, like the NHS and the BBC, generally turn out to be horrific disgraces to mankind). Despite the fact that I used to hang out with one of their stewardesses (I'll call her Cherry, with good reason), I never got around to travelling with VA, until today.

Here are some of the "high"points of this, erm, experience:

-LHR is now officially the worst airport in the world, narrowly beating out Ruzhny in Prague. In Prague I had to stand in line for an hour and a half to go through passport control (when I was _leaving_ the country; I'm guessing it was a communist-era law they hadn't got around to revoking at that point) but at LHR today I spent a total of THREE HOURS standing in various lines, until I felt like I was trapped in some kind of Soviet Union themepark.
-I was picked on for the Potemkin Security Check, as usual: shoes off, pockets out, the works. I guess it's like a DWB, except in my case it would be "Flying While White". Either that or the "security" "guards" were worried I was one of those blond, clean-shaven Scottish hijackers we see so much of nowadays...
-Following these horrors, the Virgin inflight movie screens had the unmitigated gall to show a cartoon of happy Virgin passengers being magically wafted past security checks. I felt a sudden and poignant urge to buy a high-powered sniper rifle and take aim at Branson's balloon the next time the strutting popinjay takes to the air.

These inflight movies BTW seem to constitute the sole reason anyone would want to fly with Virgin. Everyone, even nebbishes in Cattle Truck Class like me, gets his own screen with about fifty movies, and quite good ones too. (OTOH they were also showing Fahrenhate 911, which for some reason was described as a documentary). The main problem with the inflight movies was that they shut them off an hour before the (pretty lousy) landing, so I was left to listen to various brats squalling in relays in a manner reminiscent of the Dilbert cartoon about the colicky baby convention...

Virgin? Not worth a fuck.


Westward, Ho!, or, Blog, Interrupted

I really don't know what's happened to this blog. (Well, actually I do. I've been so debiliated and preoccupied that I haven't got my head around posting for a while). The point is that lately I have gone for months without a single post, only to pop up every so often with a colossal screed about how miserable my life is, a sort of Deject!Deject!Deject! as it were. The most recent posts have been a series of Sucky Jobs I Have Had, and not to spoil the surprise ending, but I am building up to a gargantuan monster of a final post in that series...

...which I am going to interrupt for the reason that I have gone to New York for the week, and I want to record my impressions as and when I'm impressed. (When I eventually get around to the Final Sucky Job, then I'll row back a copy to before this post to maintain the continuity of the series).

The main reason for this trip to NY is what we finance geeks call Due Diligence. At the moment it seems quite likely that I'll spend a few years living here (that's the plan, anyway) so I figured I should check the place out; it would be madness to move to a city and then realize you hate it (the way I did with London - though to be fair, London wasn't so bad the first few years. It was only when I started to travel and actually see some other places that I realised how much London sucks).

What do I expect of NY? Well, I know that in many ways this is not really an American city, more like a Zeropean one that just ended up on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Still, I'm hoping that I will find the Big Apple more congenial than la cita dolente that I've toughed out for the last ten years. We'll see.

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