"Hello, New York? Petstarr called, and she says to tell you YOU'RE FREAKIN AWESOME."
Yes it's true, New York is quite possibly the coolest city in the entire universe, and that includes cities on other planets that humanity hasn't even discovered yet. Even a Martian civilisation that had kitten vending machines on every corner and free beer fountains in the town square wouldn't beat New York for sheer urban excellence. The city just IS.
Three things about New York from TV that are actually true:
1. Phones actually make that cool ringing noise they do on 24.
2. Smoke actually does rise out of vents in the ground (from the subway).
3. There is such a thing as a chocolate babka.
We arrived on Friday night after a mammoth 28 hour journey (no, that's not a typo) and were immediately confronted by freezing-arse refrigerator weather and people we couldn't understand.
"Where you goin'?" said the taxi rank man outside the airport.
"Manhattan," we said.
"Manhattan, that's forfeye dollzfah too an paytoll onway."
"Um, sorry, I..."
"You're holin' up da line miss moo on."
I thought that decades of American TV and movies would have stood me in good stead to understand these crazy people, but apparently not. (In case you're interested, it was $45 for the two of us and we had to pay the toll on the way. Apparently.)
We're staying on Bleecker St in the West Village, right in the middle of groovy bohemianville in the centre of hiptown. The famous Blue Note jazz club is a few blocks away, and we're a short walk from Washington Square plaza where old men gather to play speed chess and big rastas smoke big reefers while city dwellers let their dogs sniff each others' bums in little fenced off 'dog runs'.
"Bishop to rook three, MOTHERF*CKER!"
The obligatory squirrel photograph
On Saturday we went down to the financial district at the bottom of Manhattan. We took the cheapskates' option and got on the free Staten Island ferry to scoot past the Statue of Liberty, rather than the tourist one you have to pay for that actually takes you TO the statue. Meh - who wants to climb that many stairs anyway, right?
Funny, you never realise Lady Liberty wears sunglasses until you get right up close...
Back in Manhattan we walked to 'Ground Zero', the site of the former World Trade Centre which is now just a big old hole in the ground. All of the poems, flowers and messages that once covered the walls of the construction site have been removed, replaced with big sprayed-on signs saying POST NO BILLS, which seems a bit tough. Despite being basically a big patch of dirt with diggers on it, the place was actually rather moving - you can really imagine what it would have been like at the time, with the smoke and dust and papers flying around (not to mention the rubble and fire).
New York City cops, New York City cops... (WTC site in background)
Checked out Chinatown, which was like a mini version of Hong Kong full of vendors selling the ubiquitous I HEART NY shirts (ok ok, so I bought one) (and a mug) (and a magnet, so what? You're breakin' my balls over here!) and knock off handbags. Caught the subway to Union Square and came out in the middle of a funky little produce market, right in the middle of the city. It was fantastic - people selling everything from 30kg pumpkins to goats cheese and clam dip. The only thing ruining it was the hired entertainment - a Christian band who kept wrecking everyone's hedonistic pumpkin and cheese buying by singing "Come to Jesus, Jesus loooooves you" while weird people danced spastically in front.
Hurrah for pumpkins!
Speaking of weird people - there are rather a lot of them in this town. If Saigon is where old bicycles go to die, then New York is where crazy people come to live. Walking down 42nd St today some man stopped me at the traffic lights:
"Hey, nice dress!"
"It's really nice."
"Thanks a lot."
"Can I take a picture?"
"Um, that's a bit weird. No."
Another strange conversation ocurred in a souvenir shop (yes, where I was buying my I HEART NY mug, ok ok).
"Where you from?"
"Ahh you want buy digital camera?"
"No thanks, I've already got one."
"What about digital man?"
"My son, you take him back to Australia. He digital man."
From the back: "I'm 8 megapixels!"
Much of this free entertainment is, funnily enough, more amusing than some of the comedy you actually pay for here in NYC. Went to a comedy club in the village just around the corner from our apartment on Sunday night and was told "Dave Chappelle was here last night!" Sure buddy, and tomorrow night he will have been here tonight, right? Tip for entering stand up comedy venue: don't enter half way through an act, and don't be Australian. Didn't hear the end of Steve Irwin jokes all night. Still, that was better than the first timer who stunned everyone by standing in front of the heater and exclaiming "DOES IT MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE TO SEE A JEW IN FRONT OF AN OVEN?" Um, no, and ps: that's a heater.
Ended up in a bar called the Village Lantern after that, swilling white wine and listening to a crap band who were clearly pissed - although by the time we left we had bypassed them by a considerable degree. Woke up on Monday with the worst hangover I have had in quite some time (typical) and could barely manage anything more strenuous than breathing. And even THAT was a struggle. Spent the day slothing around the village, listlessly looking in shops and trying not to die.
The Chrysler Building
Speaking of which (not at all, actually, but I couldn't think of a segway) American money is retarded. All the notes look exactly the same, which inevitably leads to you accidentally tipping a waitress $50 instead of $1 on your $2 coffee - something you only realise after she's gotten down on her knees and kissed your feet while saying "Bless you" a thousand times. And pennies - what the hell is the POINT? Who cares about six cents change on ANYTHING? You find yourself amassing hundreds of the little buggers, and THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. You can't even give them to a beggar, or you'll look cheap. You simply have to carry them around in your wallet for the rest of your life, and you'll finally die by falling in front of a subway train, weighed down by the weight of 5 million pennies. Welcome to New York.