I returned to America on the 16th of January, with considerably less trouble than when I flew home in the days before Christmas. After a day in College Park I caught a bus heading to New York City, where I’d meet my friend Nicole. Having never been to New York before I was extremely intrigued to see if it would live up to the expectations that result from over a decade of watching films and television shows set in NYC. Within ten minutes of getting off my bus at 33rd and 7th I saw ten or so police officers raiding a van in the middle of the road. So I decided to put a little tick next to one of the expectations in the list. Later I met Nicole and her friend Jesse (and one of his friends), and we set off to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The American grid system is a brilliant, if a little impersonal, way of setting out a city. However, the New York subway system feels like an afterthought; lines scribbled together and criss-crossing with reckless abandon over each other on the subway map. The lines are named, rather unhelpfully, 1, 2, 3,… and A, B, C,… rather than anything particularly memorable. Here you go.
The Met was very interesting, but unfortunately it closed quite early, so we weren’t able to see a great deal of what it had to offer. Later we had a good meal at a Eastern food restaurant, and Nicole and I caught the train from Penn Station to her hometown in New Jersey. In order to get there we had to transfer at Newark, which was not a nice place. It’s a notoriously dnagerous city, and the train station gets that information across very quickly.
The next day we went back into New York City again, and got to spend a lot more time exploring (well, it was exploring for me, at least). We went into the lobby of the Empire State Building, though we didn’t go up to the top because it was extremely expensive. After that we walked to Times Square, which was very impressive. However, like most of New York, it didn’t feel as big as I expected it to. This is probably because I’ve seen Times Square hundreds of times on television and in films, where it’s always portrayed as huge, neon, and overwhelming. Granted, we saw it during the day, and it’s probably something entirely different at night, but I still got the feeling that it wasn’t really anything that certain streets in London couldn’t reach, or at least approach, in terms of sheer size and impressiveness. I’m not complaining of course: I thought New York as a whole was a fantastic city to see, and I’d love one day to spend a long period of time living there. It certainly feels like there’s a lot to discover, especially if you make an effort to explore.
Later we went to the Museum of Modern Art. Modern art museums are always interesting to experience, even, or probably especially, if you’re a person who doesn’t appreciate modern art. I have to say that I, by and large, don’t appreciate vast swathes of it; conceptual art, specifically. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what it’s trying to do in principle, and I’m not going to dismiss anything without experiencing it, but I just think that a lot of what it as a whole does, such as challenging our conceptions as to the nature of art, or attempting to be explicitly self-referential about art, isn’t really very interesting. Walking through the many levels of the MoMA occasionally let me see something that I find genuinely interesting, but it largely left me cold. There was one piece that was a looping video of a woman eating a hot pepper, and then rubbing it into her eye. We also got to see a performance artist play with a bit of string on a table. That is literally what she did for the entirety of the day.
Later we wandered around, trying to find somewhere to eat (after I was taken to the Museum of Sex, which was equal parts interesting and harrowing; leading to several memorable lines, such as ‘that’s a very wide vagina’ and ‘The tortoise’s penis really looks like a giant spike – ohgodwheredidthattentaclecomefrom’). We walked round for a very long time, but eventually found a place where I ate my bodyweight in chicken.
The next day we stayed in New Jersey and walked around Nicole’s hometown. Anyone who’s ever been in New Jersey can understand that I’m deadly serious when I say that walking anywhere in New Jersey strongly reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. And the day after that I headed back into New York and waited for my bus back to D.C.. I had a lot of time to kill, so I decided to wander down broadway to find somewhere to eat. Somewhere in a street near Times Square I stumbled across the New York headquarters for the Church of Scientology, and I decided to eat at a pizza place just across the street. It was a nice way to end my short stay in NYC.
As for music, well, I’ve been listening to a fair amount of new (in most cases just new to me) stuff. A couple days ago I decided to buy Joanna Newsom’s debut album ‘The Milk-Eyed Mender’. She’s a musician I’ve been unable to really get into in the past because of her slightly odd voice. Someone linked me to a track off her 2010 album, and it really got a hold of me. Her voice is very distinctive, and unlike anything I’ve really heard before, but where at first I couldn’t understand the appeal now I find it strangely calming in its childlike nature (apparently she doesn’t like when people call her voice childlike, but there isn’t really another way to put it, to be honest). She plays the harp, and she writes startlingly poetic lyrics. And she’s Awesome. (I’m sure she’s probably on Spotify, but that doesn’t work in the US).
I also recently finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Everything is Illuminated’. It’s a magic realist novel about the Holocaust, the past, and remembering the two. It’s utterly fascinating, if not wholly satisfying (though I tend to think that’s part of the point). It’s also got the best name of any book I’ve ever read.