Times Square is a madhouse. You've never seen so many electronic advertising hoardings in your life, all competing for your attention, which of course they don't. They all seem to cancel each other out, and I can only remember one – the depressing thing for a 62 year old is that it was for M&Ms.
If it had been raining and a bit darker, you could be forgiven for thinking you were on the set of BladeRunner. Sirens wailing, taxis blowing their horns, traffic everywhere and people shouting incessantly led to a real "Wall of Sound" feel to the place.
Suddenly though, over all the noise, there was the concerted shrieking of a serious number of young kids, just like you get at a pop concert. Around the next corner, and blocking the road off completely to the traffic was a temporary grandstand, and as I shuffled past (due to weight of pedestrian traffic, not my age!), a band struck up and a girl's voice started singing. It sounded like Mariah Carey to my untutored ear. And talking to another of those neckless, twirly black headphoned, cuff talking guys stopping us all from using the King's Thoroughfare across which the stage had been erected, his reply to my clever little "Sounds like Mariah Carey" comment was "That's because it is Mariah Carey."
And it was. There she was in a very tight, short, bright pink dress and a grey cardie, obviously made by her Gran. It was clearly unfinished, only reaching down just to her sticky-out bits. And yes, they did stick out! She started to sing, accurate to the second, just as I arrived. I never knew she cared (or is it Careyed?), and it was really good of her to wait until I had just arrived before starting. Who gave her the signal? Am I being watched? It's BladeRunner again. I've no idea why she was there, in a New York side-street, belting it out on a freebee at 8.30am on a Friday morning. But, there you go. You don't get that in Walsall.
Wandering around taking pictures of the world at large, it got to 10 o'clock, and my stomach sent messages that some food would not be rejected were it to be sent down. I asked a doorman on a posh looking Apartment Block were he would go for his breakfast, and he pointed me in the direction of a Deli round the corner. So off we (actually I) went. It was run by an Italian guy who looked as if he'd played a bit part in the Godfather, but the food was excellent. Freshly squeezed (and I mean Freshly Squeezed) Orange juice, Eggs and bacon on toast, with potatoes, and a halfway decent cup of coffee – coffee is one thing the Americans are C- at, in my limited experience. I sat at the counter and watched the world go by for half an hour, then off Up North.
It was a serious walk, made longer, by photographic detours up many of the side-streets, reaching Central Park at around noon. It's a massive place – some 850 acres or about the size of 5 golf courses stitched together. And there was an amazing number of people there, most doing some form of exercise - Joggers, Walkers, cyclists, proper runners, all belting their way around the inner circuit. God, they're keen and wholesome. Although I'm not so sure about the guy whose sweat stained T-shirt said "Do I look like a fucking People Person?" on it.
The blossom was out on many of the trees, and it looked really pleasant in the morning sunshine. Whoever put the Park there in the first place knew precisely what he was doing – it acts like a green lung for a place with so many people living and working so close together.
I headed for a part of the Park called Strawberry Fields, which was an area set up recently to commemorate John Lennon. As a centrepiece, a circular memorial made from Mosaics simply said "Imagine". It was decorated very stylistically with flowers, and looked simple and impressive. No graffiti, no vandalism – someone was looking after it really well. I managed to suppress the thought that in England, that would be a tad more difficult.
Rather spookily, I turned round, and, out of the 8 million people who inhabit the place, who should I meet but the Turkish Brain Surgeon who had been sitting next to me on the flight from London. Ooo-er. I know it's only statistics and random maths, but it still felt a bit strange. Perhaps he wasn't a Brain Surgeon. Did he know Mariah Carey? I took a picture of him, in case I disappear in mysterious circumstances. You can't be too careful.
Anyway, the meanderings continued, back along Fifth Avenue, with various sorties off onto the side streets. The street naming and layout is immensely logical and efficient in this main part of Manhattan. You start to understand the bemused looks you see on the faces of Americans whom you meet looking at maps and trying to find their way around back in Shrewsbury. They’ve got no chance.
Anyway, back to the plot – Fifth Avenue. If you want a physical definition of Conspicuous Consumption, this is it. I've never seen so many shoes, or handbags, or scarves, none of them even remotely being sullied by a price tag. It goes on for about 20 blocks before the tone of the shops starts to come out of the stratosphere. There are two or three "showcase" churches/cathedrals along the drag, and it strikes you the impact of these buildings is completely the other way round from where we live. At home, the church, architecturally at least, dominates the towns and villages. Here, it's the complete opposite. I went into the Roman Catholic St. Patrick's Cathedral, and a service was in progress. All amplified and recorded choirs, and I have to say, it didn't give anything like the same sense of occasion as say York Minster where I went a few weeks ago. All a bit smooth and synthetic, at least to someone who pokes his head in for a few minutes. Perhaps I'm biased.
I pootled further down the Avenue, and did a detour into the New York Public Library. I'm pretty well Skyscapered out by now and this long low building is a welcome change. It's a bit special. A terrific 1911 white stone edifice on which lashings of Sponsor Money (all listed VERY prominently) had been spent restoring and keeping it up to scratch. Apparently it has 88 miles of bookshelves – we are in America here! But the Reading Room was stunning – an absolute gem. Serried ranks of long tables, with an amazing range of varied people, young and old, all races, beavering away, in total silence.
The ceiling in this massive room had been painted very ornately to look like the sky with clouds above you, and as you went back into the room where you ordered your books, the ceiling was the same – clouds and sky again, but much darker. I asked a girl whether one room had been restored and the other not, but she said that it was intentional. Where you sought for knowledge, it was dark, and as you went into the Reading Room, read your books and gained enlightenment, it all got brighter, and clearer.
I rather liked that.
Back outside, and a slice (American style –about an acre) of thin crust Pizza, eaten dribbling Tomato juice along the sidewalk. Not, I suspect the prettiest sight, but needs must, and anyway I pretended I was German. And, as an aside, while getting rid of the detritus, you realise how clean much of where you walk is. It may be the showpiece areas, but the difference from, say, London, is very marked.
This part of town, around the Empire State Building, is a lot less posh, and I went to sort out the logistics and opening times of getting up the Empire State Building, as I planned to go up and photograph the city from there one evening. The building is undergoing a massive restoration, and is frankly, a bit of a mess at present. And the queues….. We'll see.
On to a subway, and back to Wall Street. It's now 4pm, and my feet are in full Whinge mode. It's warm, and I want to lie in a bath. So, back to base, a bath, and a beer. I know it's only mid afternoon, and the sun is not yet over the American Yard-arm, but my body tells it to piss off – the bit that wants a drink is still firmly in the UK! I got talking to another fellow from a group in the Bar who ran a Software company. He ordered a Newcastle Brown, and when I said my mother was born there, and that I had spent most of our childhood holidays in that part of the world, his eyes glazed over. I had clearly become a God in his view. Or maybe, it wasn't the first one he'd drunk that afternoon.
He shared with me, in typical forthright New York terms his views of George Bush – there seems to be a trend appearing here. I know I'm 50 yards from Wall Street, but they all hate him – what they are all uncomfortable about is that, all of the potential successors are real lightweights, and not the man for the job. This Iraq thing has really got to them.
He did suggest that what America needed was someone like "your man Blair". I put him right on that.
I was a bit worried that the previous night's pictures may not have been as sharp as I wanted, so I decided to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, into Brooklyn and take some shots from dry land, on the river bank, with the Bridge in front of the Manhattan sky-line. So, more mad cyclists, and over the river into Brooklyn. It was a pretty decent walk, so my feet told me, but "Il faut suffrir pour l'Art". That's French for "You've got to kiss a lot of frogs before a Prince turns up" – I think.
I ended up in a park, by the side of the river, where there were piles of people lying around, doing not a lot. Kids playing, guys reading, the odd couple snogging, and about a dozen photographers, who'd had the same idea as myself, but all grouped together on a little viewing platform. I thought they'd got their position wrong so I started a pincer movement, and located myself on some huge rocks, lower down and closer to the river and put there to minimise the bank erosion. I'd picked the Prime Location here, and was soon joined by a few like minded geniuses, with the original group now looking decidedly Second Division.
The gradual change as the sunlight went down, with the colours gradually changing, the way the lights in the skyscrapers come into prominence, it all takes a good hour and I thought it quite magical. I know it's man made and all that, but it's very, very, impressive.
And as a sideline, since it was Friday Night, and presumably POETS Day works over here as it does at home, why do they leave so many lights on. It's a prodigious and profligate waste - but very good for taking pictures.
A long walk home, picking up a really scrummy Chinese take-away – Total $5 – the last of the Big Spenders. And a cold beer!
Another day over. What will tomorrow bring?