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NY Trip Retroblog: Friday July 6th

NY Trip Retroblog: Friday July 6th

It's Friday I'm in New York

Friday was my last day to get the touristy things I'd been neglecting done. I had the vague notion that I could fit in the Guggenheim, the MoMA and the UN buildings in a single day. This might well have been the case, but I didn't do my scheduling any favours by staying in bed until lunchtime (and we're talking a late lunch here, folks).

Besides, by the time I got back to Jon's, he'd come up with the idea of going up to the roof of the Met for drinks that evening, so something had to give. Scratch one UN buildings tour; I'm sure Kofi would understand.

And so I caught the subway uptown to 86th street and walked across to the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue. The striking museum building itself was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the main rotunda looks not unlike a giant turban from the outside, with a six-storey spiral ramp display space leading all the way up to the glass dome - like a giant Archimedes screw.

The main reason I wanted to get to the Guggenheim was for the Frank Gehry exhibit, and it was indeed pretty awesome. Frank Gehry is the architect responsible for the Bilbao Guggenheim - the big shimmering wobbly silver building at the beginning of The World is Not Enough, for those of you who reference your entire lives through Bond movies.

The displays included lots of design-process models (ranging from seemingly haphazard piles of rough wooden blocks to fully-detailed mockups), photography, video, sketches, blueprints and CAD schematics. The CATIA printouts were fascinating, actually; it's a 3D modelling environment designed for the French military (yes, they do have one) but also used in Formula 1 engine and chassis design, among other things.

It was warm and sunny, so I headed outside at about four to wait for Bethany, who was going to tag along to MoMA with me. Some thoughtlessly loud (sorry, "decorum-challenged") American woman was chatting to a group of street-dressed twenty-somethings: "OH! WHERE ARE YOU FROM? IRELAND! WOW! IRELAND! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? VISITING THE MUSEUM? THAT'S AMAZING!" so I went back inside to browse the shop before I did any damage ("WOW! YOU'RE AMERICAN? NO WAY! WOW! HOW DID I KNOW? I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I KNEW! I GUESS I MUST BE F**KING PSYCHIC! WOW!")

Bethany and I headed into Central Park, planning to wander in the vague direction of MoMA. After a slight false start (lots of road, not much park) we managed to find softball diamonds, basketball courts, joggers, horses, bridges, Narnia-style lampposts, turtle ponds, expansive lawns and oddball meteorological castles. I suppose I had an idea of what to expect - we've all seen it in movies and on TV so many times, after all - but it was still surprising to see how varied the terrain was.

It certainly puts Tokyo to shame, anyway; I think I've quoted this statistic before, but if you add up the parkland of Tokyo's four central wards, they come to a less-than-whopping 38% of Central Park's area - and Manhattan has a higher population density to boot. Which reminds me: Mid-Tokyo have started another series of Flash anims - check'em out.

We gave up on MoMA (it'll be there next time, I'm sure) and vegged out on a grassy hillside instead, watching the clouds scroll by. Again, lazing in Central Park with attractive members of the opposite sex wasn't something I saw myself doing during my trip (indeed, I think I specifically answered "no" to the "are you entering the United States with intent to engage in terrorist activity by lazing in Central Park with attractive American women?" question on the visa waiver form) but it was (I know - unbelievable!) one of the absolute highlights of the week.

And so to the Met. Not to see any of the actual exhibits, you understand - although you have to walk through a few rooms to get to the roof elevators - but up to the roof garden, the bar, and the view. As Jon had warned, it was a bit yuppified, but with the setting sun horizontally lighting the facades of the buildings along the east edge of the park, we managed to zone out the hordes of identically clad investment bankers and enjoy the view out over the park - very nice. We got a couple of photos, too. Aaaah.

Dinner was a sushi restaurant called Sandobe; ordered the A-set and discovered that the American philosophy of serving-sizes also extends to their Japanese restaurants. Christ what a lot of fish. I'm pretty sure I got twice as much as I ordered, but seeing as I didn't get charged for it, I'm not complaining. I tried a sushi roll (Californian invention, I think) for the first time. Avocado - no! Really really cold, flavourless rice - no! Really really cold, flavourless rice on the outside - double no! So, that was less than impressive. The miso soup was good, though (wonder how many people I freaked out by drinking it straight from the bowl... hmmm...) and the sushi was fine too, even if the nigiri rice pats were maddeningly small.

How could I tell that Sandobe wasn't very authentic? Three things. One: no chopstick rests. Two: lanterns advertising ramen on the outside, no ramen on the menu inside. Three: no Japanese customers. Contrast that with our next stop, Decibel.

This basement sake bar not only had truly Japanese staff (i.e. Japanese-Japanese, not Japanese-American) but truly Japanese clientele - maybe as many as half the punters looked like they'd just finished a hard day's browsing around the backstreets of Omotesando. Dark, loud (the bar, not the clientele) and stocking dozens of different brands of sake, give it a try if you get the chance. Personally, I like my sake like I like my women... hot. And strongly alcoholic. And, um, in a thin-necked flask. Maybe I'll stop this train of thought now.

Then on! Again! This time to Stingy Lulu's, to meet up with Ethan, Louisa and Megan, Louisa's flatmate, who were just finishing dinner.

There was a discussion of, and much tomfoolery with, digital cameras, and Megan commented (I could tell she was being polite) on my bare-bones Kodak APS (what? you didn't think Kodak made cameras? me neither - probably because they're not very good at it). Something about the way she said it spoke of authority, and so I reached into my bag and pulled out the Olympus; Megan's jaw nearly hit the table. Thought so.

My mum's OM-2 is about as old as I am (1975 was a damn good year), and it's a lovely camera. I'm still not much good with it yet, and I definitely need something other than the fixed-angle lens I've got at the moment, but the extra effort makes it rewarding to use. (All the photos in the gallery section were taken with it, for starters.) Megan turned out, as suspected, to be a semi-professional photographer - and she used to own an OM-1. She actually wanted to lick my (camera) body - not the kind of offer I get every day.

for sake's sakeOur 70's technofetishism sated, we all moved next door to a VERY LOUD BAR; damn cool though. Totally blacked out windows with a single kanji (the one for alcohol, see right) at about knee height right in one corner. Dark and hermetically sealed; so, what was it called? Openair.

Ethan had to head home so we were left with me, Swerd, Bethany, Louisa, Megan and some ace flatscreen visuals on the walls of the bar. The DJ was actually really damn good; I suppose if I were in genrewhore mode I'd say it was tech-house, which is essentially a bullshit genre invented by, if Jockey Slut is to be believed, Mr. C and a bunch of other British DJs. You could think of it as techno that would like to be a bit hipper, or alternatively house music that would like to be taken a bit more seriously; either way, it can only be a good thing. Comfy sofas and a practically deserted back room meant that we had plenty of space to strut our collective stuff and enjoy Louisa's phenomenal talent for aping any particular dance style you care to mention; she and Nige are the only two people I've met who can do it so convincingly. Attagirl. Her Cameron Diaz Soul Train robot dance was the best.

I had to leave to make sure I got at least a shot at a decent night's sleep before my flight to Atlanta the next day, so Jon and I popped outside for an emotional farewell (I think we both just sort of mumbled a bit and tried not to cry too much), then Bethany and I swung by Swerd's place to pick up my rucksack before catching a cab back to hers. Well, y'see, Jon was planning to roll in much later and I didn't want him waking me up at 4am... and she lives nearer the airport than he does, and... um... she has a nicer CD collection... the air is cleaner further uptown... oh, okay, you get the picture.

The (Indian, perhaps) taxi driver was hilarious - he asked me if I was British, and I'm glad that I didn't do what I normally do in these situations and pretend to be [insert spurious nationality here], because he had a great anecdote about some long-winded Brits he'd had in his cab the week before. "They must have worked for the United Nations, because they talked for an hour and couldn't decide one thing".

He asked why we preface all our questions with so many "If you don't mind"s, "I wonder if you could tell me"s and "I don't mean to cause a fuss"es - so I told him that it's all to do with how expensive the school you go to is. If your parents pay for you to go to Eton or Charterhouse, then they expect long sentences for their money, whereas state school pupils can get away with monosyllables. Simple. Mine was only a middle-ranking independent school, so that's why I was relatively intelligible but prone to waffling after a few glasses of sherry. Seemed to be the right answer. Someone who shall remain nameless (but she answers to the call of "Bethany") thought the whole thing was hilarious, anyway - damn colonials.

I showed her who was boss, though - put on Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada when we got back to her place. Scottish ambient techno as an instrument of British colonial terror - if only they'd tried that back in 1775, things might have turned out very differently.

Posted by chris at July 15, 2001 06:50 PM | Permalink

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