Monday, 25 January 2010

More New York stuff

I've edited the poem I sent in the last post but one.

There's a car that isn't yellow.
Hail it anyway; you never know
what might happen.

Quite a dramatic edit by my standards. Anyway, there's more stuff to tell you about from the trip. We'll start with Sunday the third of January.

There was a football match in Glasgow that day, between Rangers and Celtic. The New Year Old Firm game, one of the big events of the year. And I was on the wrong continent. But modern communications are a wonderful thing, and I looked up the North American Rangers Supporters Association on the internet. Sure enough, there was a pub on 2nd Avenue showing the game: The Blue Room. It's a Rangers bar, seems to be owned by a Rangers fan, and it is also the home of the Big Apple Bears, New York's Rangers supporters' association. Now, the game was kicking off at 1230 British time; that's 7.30am New York time. So, we got up at 6.30, went out and hailed a cab after buying coffee and muffins to go. We were there by just after seven. Went in the side door, as advised on the website, took breakfast in with us (the kitchen isn't open at that time in the morning, but they have no problem with people bringing food and hot drinks in with them), paid our $20 a head and sat down. The place was jumping, with a wondrous mix of accents. My favourites were the broad New York accents shouting Scottish football insults with Glaswegian terminology, presumably belonging to Scottish guys who had lived there for decades. Susan and I were both wearing Rangers shirts, it was her first ever game, and we had a great time. At half time we each had a beer with our free meat pies, at around 8am, which tickled Susan no end. She got really into the match, which bodes well for the future of course, and even avoided saying anything daft or embarrassing while joining in heartily. I think she even understood when I explained the offside rule to her, which is one for me to boast about.

After the game we headed to Port Authority and caught a bus to New Jersey to visit the family again, to wish everyone Happy New Year and to have a pretty impromptu engagement party. Not many people showed up-- it was very impromptu and they'd not had any notice to speak of, 24 hours at most-- but we had a lot of fun; it was another deeply pleasant family occasion. Actually we had been out there on New Year's Day too, back to the River Edge Diner for the traditional family New Year lunch. I had a plateful from the salad bar and a turkey leg with veggies and coleslaw. That leg was BIG, man! I couldn't eat it all and took some away with me.

I first visited New York in 1999, for two days on the way back from Pennsylvania. It was my first trip to the US and, as I was nearby, I wanted to verify that New York really existed. Also I wanted to visit the Museum of Modern Art to see Vincent's beautiful Starry Night, but when I got there the museum's workers were having a strike, the cause sounded reasonable and I didn't cross the picket line. So I had waited another ten years to finally have the opportunity to see it in the flesh. It was worth the wait. MOMA is wonderful. We might have spent a lot longer in there, but we were using a wheelchair and it was hard on Susan; still it was a great day. We saw Starry Night, of course, but much else besides. She wanted to see the Jackson Pollock room, and there was a wonderful energy in there; it was a very pleasant surprise for me. Got to see some Andy Warhol, including the famous soup cans and a Marilyn head, some Roy Lichtenstein (not a favourite of mine but always worth seeing) and a lot more, as well as having a pretty decent coffee on the fifth floor. After leaving we bought ourselves some gyros from a street vendor, and it was absolutely delicious and very warming in the cold weather.

But the best middle eastern food we had (well, kind of middle eastern, north African really, but hey, it's a link) was at a Moroccan restaurant on Ninth Avenue, called Tagine. Tagine is also a traditional Moroccan dish, well THE traditional Moroccan dish, and we had one, as well as a sort of vegetable stew, and some Moroccan spring roll like things as a starter. Before even the starter, we were given some very fresh, very warm bread with dips, one of which was a sauce called harissa. This was one of the hottest foods I have ever tasted, truly beautiful, but so hot it would have completely killed the flavour of the rest of the meal had I eaten more than a couple of small spoonsful of it. It was Great food (note the capital G), and Susan had a $25 voucher, so it wasn't as expensive as it might have been.

The only movie we saw, other than on TV, was Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It is an excellent film, grabbed a couple of Golden Globes and will surely have a fistful of Oscar nominations. Jeff's performance is stellar, he is absolutely the centre of the movie and everyone orbits him to great effect. I heard Maggie describe it on The Daily Show as "a tiny movie", which is about right, but in this case tiny doesn't mean small. It is well worth your time and money to see. After it we crossed 42nd Street to a Mexican restaurant called Chevy's, the queue at the Dallas BBQ having been too intimidating in the cold, and it was pretty damn good. Mexican isn't my favourite cuisine, still isn't, but it was well prepared from fresh ingredients and you can't complain about that.

All in all, we had a long succession of wonderful days, some wonderful experiences, and an awful lot of wonderful, wonderful time together. I do believe Eliza, the cat, loved her daddy, which is just as well as she'll be moving over here with Susan come the autumn. Mainly she just thought it was a really cool idea to have TWO humans to pet her instead of just the one, but the one with the hairy face didn't seem to mind petting her more or less constantly, and she was well happy with that.

Finally for this post, and probably for this New York trip, a poem. I wrote it in a cafe on 42nd Street just before we saw Crazy Heart, while waiting for Susan to come back from her apartment with the movie voucher she had. I like this one.

When I was a boy, I drank cup after cup
of tea, hot and welcoming and satisfying.
Then I had an Earl Grey. It had no milk,
but it smelled of beautiful flowers, heady
and exciting. It was like Times Square on
a good night, bright smiling and fierce, at
once bewildering and innately understood.
A few hundred gallons later, feeling bloated
and streamlined, wise and indescribably
foolish, I found a woman who was in the
same place. We sat down together, put the
kettle on, and watched until it boiled.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

New York, New York

What a month. The longest time Susan and I have spent together so far, and we are now wearing engagement rings and have the wedding rings tucked away ready.

One of the first things that happened during the trip was, sadly, that Susan's mother died. It happened during the night just before we went out there to meet the relatives; it wasn't unexpected as she had been very ill for a very long time, but a shock for Susan anyway of course, and I was just glad I was able to be there for her. The upshot was that I met every relative this side of Alaska. I have never felt so warmly welcomed or accepted, and within a few days of arriving in the US I was suddenly a family member at a family funeral. It was quite an experience, for all of us, and quite a burst of humanity. I never met Nancy physically, although we had spoken on the phone and by Skype and were friends, but I felt so much love for her from relatives and from everyone else we met, and it was obvious that she was a very special woman.

We were in New Jersey for over a week, taking in Christmas, which was very beautiful. Again I was surrounded with family love, and I owe a great debt of thanks not only to Susan but to her sister Donna and all her family; I hope they know the thanks are given and the love returned. Christmas dinner was cooked by Susan's nephew John, who is a qualified professional chef, and it was truly magnificent. Rather than turkey we had an amazing roast beef joint and a ham, of which I felt compelled to take photographs. We had started with Italian hors d'oeuvres of cheese and cooked meats and sundried tomatoes. It was incredibly difficult not to eat far too much, but I just about managed it although I had to sit very still for quite a while afterwards. On Boxing Day (or December 26th as it's called over there) we went to some other relatives in Connecticut for White Elephant Day. This is a family tradition in which everyone sits around and regifts something. Everyone takes a number and the somethings are distributed on a more or less random basis, although there is also the possibility to "steal" something that someone else has already taken rather than pick one of the still wrapped objects. It was a lot of fun and another state to add to my collection.

After we got back to the City, there was still my entire list of desired destinations and experiences to go through. And we got through almost all of them, at the same time meeting friends of both Susan and myself (I have friends from Munich who are born New Yorkers and now live there again). We had cheesecake at Junior's, as well as at the River Edge Diner in NJ, and I have to tell you that, good as the famous Junior's version was, the one at the River Edge Diner is the greatest cheesecake on the planet, my niece's vote for a bakery called New York New York notwithstanding. We also ate at the Edison Hotel, where I had an absolutely reubenrific sandwich experience as well as my first ever matzo ball soup; and had a New York diner breakfast experience at the Westway Diner on 8th Avenue by 43rd Street, eggs sunny side up, hash browns, ham, bacon and sausage, pancakes, bottomless coffee and all.

I had my photo taken at the Dakota Building, right by the spot where John Lennon was killed, just before we visited Strawberry Fields and the Imagine memorial circle. The Chrysler Building and Empire State Building were visited on one morning, and the view of Lady Chrysler from a telescope on the observatory on the 86th floor of the ESB was worth the price of the trip all on its own. To see that wondrous art deco architecture so apparently close up was breathtaking to me, AND I got a fine beer at the Heartland Brewery back down on the ground afterwards.

On New Year's Eve, we went up to the roof of Susan's building, but thanks to a new building we couldn't actually see the ball from there and there was no one else up there, so we eventually went back down and watched it on TV like everyone else, despite being in Times Square and able to hear the crowds from her apartment. Still managed to get one of those daft blue Nivea hats you saw everyone wearing on TV though, so I can prove I was there...

All in all, it was a fantastic trip, most memorable, especially for all the time I was able to spend with my Susan, holding hands, watching TV and movies, playing with the cat, seeing and sharing her city, her family and her friends-- now MY family and friends, too. It was magical, and there were many tears from both of us at JFK as I was leaving. A wedding is expected later this year, and you're all invited to Paisley for the festivities. Just tell them Cameron sent you.