Dear readers, this is a post from New York, where we are visiting.
First things first. This post is written with inadequate information, surmises that are biased, racist at best and elitist at worst. Conclusions are jumped to and highly opinionated statements and conclusions are reached based on superficial observations and data. Please do not read this is you are a sensitive soul.
If you are a sensitive soul, I suggest you log out and switch to the writings of Sadhguru on the Isha Foundation site or learn about inner peace and the power of meditation from the Brahmakumaris and their informative site.
The last time I was in the USA was some 17 years ago. Somehow we never felt the desire to make this long journey when all pleasures could be enjoyed in Europe. HRH the Queen of Kutch had been to the US a few times in these 17 years to visit her sister but had not stayed in New York for more than a few hours. So this was effectively our first visit to the USA. We were older, considerably fatter, much wiser, certainly richer and far more confident of ourselves than before. We intended to stay only in Manhattan and not go or visit anyone anywhere. 11 nights in Manhattan.
The flight in, I must admit, was rather pleasant. Immigration was a breeze as was customs. I had no food in my bags, I was visiting no one. The long lines at immigration and the confiscation of ‘Theplas’ you hear of from friends travelling to JFK simply were not to be seen. I have no explanation, though I can venture a guess. Probably I landed at an “odd” time, or that the Terminal was dedicated to just British Airways. Anyway, from touchdown to getting into the taxi was a phenomenal 45 minutes.
Now we Indians know we are simply the smartest in the world. We all have this notion that the Yanks are the dumbasses. They know nothing. Their TV news is all about cats being rescued; they have no passports and have never travelled and are simple- minded ignoramus. On arrival at the hotel, I am sorry to say this cliché played out in front of me.
A very smartly dressed young Black boy, probably 21 years old asked for my passport to check me in. He opened my passport [a single booklet mind you] with a flourish and asked me “So the last name is Bombay?” I have no idea where or how he reached that amazing conclusion. I was fucking gob smacked!!! Exercising all the little restraint I had, I gently told him the last name was Stonethrower. Without blinking an eyelid he said “Oh Yeah” and proceeded to complete the formality of check in.
I thought to myself, fucking dumb Black. Bloody UP ka Bhaiya jaisa gaddha! If he was back in Mumbai uski aise ki taise karta. Last name Bombay!! Kya samajh rakkha hai?
After putting things away and “freshening up” it was about 3.30 pm. HRH the Queen of Kutch and I decided to take a walk to familiarize ourselves and soak in the atmosphere. I had been cooped up in an aluminum tube for almost 24 hours, so stretching my legs would be a good idea. We headed out and simply walked. As luck would have it we ended up on 7th Avenue and found ourselves in the Times Square area. This was not good. We were both becoming increasingly uneasy. Though we did not say it, our thought were where the fuck have we landed? What the heck is this? For those of you readers who are familiar with London, the feel was like what you get walking along Oxford Street on the stretch past Oxford Circus crossing. The stretch of Oxford Street alongside Soho. This magnified by 10. This was horrid. Humans of all kinds, all dressed poorly, none speaking any language that was mildly comprehensible except Gujarati, Hindi and Marathi. The shops and restaurants sold junk, tourist souvenirs, suitcases, outlet after outlet of KFC, MacDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and so on. This was truly horrible. We made our way back rather disturbed. The place seemed full of immigrants. The streets had scores of drunks and deadbeats in a stupor with the handwritten cardboard signs – I am hungry/homeless/want to go home – and the obligatory large takeaway plastic glass with a few coins.
So far not so good. 11 nights? How could we do this?
The next day, we decided to take a walk along the legendary 5th Avenue, a few minutes away. Now this was a huge contrast. The proverbial night and day difference. This is when you realize that NYC is really a great rich city. The sheer scale of 5th Avenue shops is unprecedented. The shops are large really large. You do have some of the brands on Oxford Street and New Bond Street in London, but nothing of the scale you have in NYC. These are really and truly the global flagship stores of these brands. I have not seen a Lindt Chocolate store – stand alone. We walked in and the variety of chocolate, obviously all made by Lindt, on sale was something we had not seen. This was impressive. 5th Avenue itself is a rather pretty area. A few blocks down we saw the really gorgeous St Patrick’s Cathedral. In fact there are several Churches all over NYC, which simply reaffirms the power of religion. America is a deeply religious place, what with the cliché Bible Belt. Of course NYC is also home to several Jews and their food and Synagogues are all over. The Irish, another deeply Catholic community, besides their Churches, have several Irish Pubs all over.
5th Avenue runs along the beautiful Central Park, and all the classic Hotels are along the Midtown edge of Central Park. Of course you have the impressive Trump Tower, the black glassed building which is new a tourist attraction.
Above: St. Patrick's Cathedral
Inside the Cathedral Bibles and other religious material. Not stolen! I is a House of God.
Statue of Atlas at Rockefeller Center opposite St Patrick's Cathedral
Above: The black building is Trump Tower
Above: General Sherman Statute at the Army Plaza Central Park
The Arch at Washington Square Park - Greenwich
Rockefeller Plaza. The Skating Rink is now shut for summer.
Entrances to two stores on the 5th Avenue side of Rockefeller Centre
Two images of a Street Festival along Broadway by the Arab's!! Note no Dishdash
On the flip side, the number of nut jobs running loose is, to my mind, phenomenal. By nut jobs I mean nut jobs. Men and women talking to themselves, shouting at the top of their voices, lecturing no one in particular about the failure of the government, not averting the 2008 financial crash, being faggots for not fighting in the Vietnam war. I kid you not. Lots of loonies around, in full flow.
The wealth, power and munificence of the Jews in New York is something to be admired. I am in deep admiration of these people. The amount of work they do for charity, setting up of institutions, and helping out their people, whether in America or Europe is truly something to be admired. This is after being persecuted to unimaginable lengths over centuries. Their contribution to the furtherance of the Arts is phenomenal. New York has plenty of very wealthy Jewish families. Look around the world, every Guggenheim Museum for instance is funded by the family. They are Jews. We went to the MOMA or the Museum of Modern Art. I would say that about 90% of the galleries are named after their Jewish benefactors, whether it be Estee Lauder or David Geffen –the music producer and label owner. The one name I saw that was not Jewish but Greek was Stravos Niarchos the Billionaire shipping magnate.
To be honest, I was fairly disappointed by the museum. It did have one floor of paintings by some of the greats – Miro, Cezane, Picasso, Pollack, Van Gogh & Matisse to name a few, the rest of the exhibits were fairly rubbish. It seemed to me to be a case of have space, fill it up. Let me be a bit more honest. Any self respecting international museum, be it Tate Modern, or the Guggenheims they all have paintings by the same brand artists. Anyway, so be it. I was still let down.
Getting around Manhattan is fairly simple. We got ourselves a 7 day train passes for 32 USD and with that life becomes quite simple. I say quite simple because once you reach your destination there are no local area maps above ground to guide you. Further, there is no compact small format Subway guide or map, so sometimes things get a little fraught and tense. The trains themselves are air conditioned and decent. Some have moving indicators to tell you the route and station sequences, some have LCD indicators and others have an incomprehensible voice telling you the next station. The internet and mobile phones work on the subway which is a help. The din in the stations is something to behold. The clatter of trains, the continual announcements and often, a musician pounding away on his drum kit. You can easily go deaf in a few days. The noise is so much that simple busking by singers, saxophonists and guitarists is drowned by the outrageous noise.
The other impression I carried over the last several years was that USA was a culinary lost case. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me quickly dispel you of that notion. Every time we travel we have three things on our must do list. (I) travel by the local public transport (ii) visit food and vegetable markets and (iii) visit grocery stores. My God the stores here are good, We have been to the huge Whole Foods, now owned by Amazon [watch what happens here] the legendary Dean & Deluca and Zabars, the new brash big kid on the block Eataly and Fairway. What wonderful stores with such good meat, cheese, fish and goods. Really really impressive. You really get everything.
Another myth that has been busted, at least as far as Manhattan is concerned, is, that folks in the USA are very very fat. I mean weighing a corpulent 150 kgs. You see this in many US shows on TV in India. Many people in Manhattan may be overweight, I mean who is not, but corpulent? Not many. Just the few obligatory Blacks and out of towners with 6 children. Probably all from the Mid West or redneck areas. You cannot be fat in Manhattan. You have a lot to do, navigate trains, get onto busses and generally walk. No sire, No fat-asses around.
So folks, as things stand, Manhattan is right up there with the great cities of the world. Coming back here after 17 years, as I have said earlier – older, wiser, fatter and richer, has been an enriching experience. Well worth the travel.