Monday, 17 September 2012


Good morrow, good friends!  And welcome to the United States of America, and to Gotham City, known in some circles as New York.

Thought you'd like a familiar piccy to begin with  – shot by the PG on a Circle Line tour of the Hudson River, Staten Island and so on.  She must suffer terribly from aching arms, poor dear!  We admired her while being transported on a Circle Line Tour of the harbour, Hudson River and Staten Island.  It's the best way to see the city skylines but when I was here in the 1960s, the piers all along Manhattan were full of large passenger liners.  The Cunard Queens did a weekly shuttle.  But now, it's largely a tourist area with some wharves left to rot and others occupied USS Intrepid, a WW2 aircraft carrier and on one quay, a Concorde is parked.

I promised to report on whether New Yorkers are as rude today as they were when I lived in this state in the 1960s.  I didn't expect to provide a clear answer but can tell you now, after extensive study of shop workers, dog walkers, shoppers, restaurateurs and general passersby that they are not.  Not rude at all.  In fact I believe, now, that London is up there in the world's leading cities for rudeness and that NY has transformed over the past 44 years.  (44!!)

We've had a wonderful three days, here and take the train to Washington today.  A full day in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a day touring the city with a group part of yesterday visiting the site of the appalling destruction of the World Trade Centre.

Central Park, 850 acres of greenery, forged out of the schist rock which makes up the island of Manhattan.  It's been hot and dry, here, but the greens are still restful and the park is popular.

We were staying in Upper West Side Manhattan, close to the park on Broadway and 75th. so were able to walk through the greenery to the Met.  The collection is staggering, so here's an edited extract from my diary:

What an experience.  So much to see and so many reactions.  A few special memories stick.  The perfection of Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture, the fakeness and crapness of Andy Warhol’s shallow prints, the complexity of compelling weirdness of Jackson Pollack, the simple beauty of Miriam Schapiro’s  huge Barcelona Fan and the cleverness - let’s not say gimmickry - of Anish Kapoor’s reflecting le
We spent time in the  Roman, modern art downstairs and then American section, before lunch, looking at the classic American style developing after Europe’s love affair with all things Greek or Roman.  And noted the contrast between simple Shaker style interiors and those of wealthy tycoons of the 19th and early 20th Century industrial booms.  And we looked at far too many disturbing creations by Tiffany - not my fave at all, though I like the dogwood stained glass. And as for irises - the famous ones by Van Gogh, glass ones by Tiffany and an uncomfortable close-up of an iris, by Gorgia O’ Keefe which resembles a lady's most intimate sanctuary.
Then, the Moderns.  They’re all there, from pre-impressionists to nutty splodgers.  I loved the two Hockneys, the usual suspects Matisse, Gauguin, Monet, Cezanne and so on are there in spades, and with magnificent examples from each.  I hated the Warhols but was almost moved, surprisingly, by the Jackson Pollocks.  They look like abstracts but there’s so much to see in them.  Weeping figures, eyes, simple squiggles which describe something human.  

 Barcelona Fan by Miriam Schapiro

The PG studies Manship's bears. 

Barbara Hepworth at the Met.  Oval Form with Strings and Colour.

Our last day was spent at the World trade centre.  We took the subway to Brooklyn and walked over Brooklyn Bridge back to the bottom end of Manhattan.  That, in itself, is a delightful experience, apart from the noise of the traffic.  The distant views are cris-crossed with cables supporting the bridge, creating pleasing geometric patterns.  But you cannot wander off the narrow pedestrian track because cyclists crossing the bridge take no prisoners.

The PGs Shot of Brooklyn Bridge looking across at lower Manhattan

At the 9/11 Memorial Garden, we were frisked and subjected to Airport style security before being allowed into the open space where the massive buildings had stood before the attack.  The area is planted with native White Swamp Oaks, a common endemic in the Easten USA with straight trunks, rough bark, handsome, lobed leaves and plump acorns.

Where the buildings stood are square pits.  Each is now the site of a sort of inverted fountain - massive 30ft waterfalls, run down all four sides into a pool deep below.  Along the rims of the fountain are wide sills, made of bronze and carved with the names of almost 3,000 victims of the Al Quaida attack.

The stark simplicity of this site is deeply moving but also strangely uplifting.  There's a note of steady defiance about the lack of adornment and the absence of any trace of mawkish sentiment.  And there's also a sense, with the young oaks, the cascading water and the open landscape, of rebirth and a new beginning.

Cascading water falls thirty feet, in the inverted fountains of the 9/11 Memorial Garden.  Here is where the building stood and where so many people, about their business, were so wantonly struck down.

But we won't finish on a sad note.  On a hoarding, near the Memorial Garden, some wag had written the words below.  That, in a way, sums up the spirit among a good many people over here.  You get up, you look out, you greet the world and you get on with it, regardless.

I'm sitting on Penn Station, listening, not to Musak but to a Mozart Piano Concerto. Lovely!

This time last week I was frantically trying to finish outstanding copy before flying over the Atlantic.

No film this week.  So instead, on away blogs.  Notes of my all time faves.  Today Casablanca - the finest commercial film ever made with the greatest story structure, the best possible casting and -- well, let's not go on about it.  It's just a great film and that's that.  'Here's looking at you, Kid'  Oh, and yesterday, we drove past Laren Bacall's apartment!  Not that she was in Casablanca but she was married to Bogey.

Friday, 7 September 2012


What a simply delicious September some of us are having.  Golden, dewy morns, a touch of mist,
new autumn flowers opening almost every day and warm, balmy afternoons.  Enjoy them while you can.

Lovelies in my garden include Aster asperula which, unlike most autumn daisies, has beautiful, broad leaves as well as sparse but large, soft blue flowers. It's good to team with Schizostylis coccinea 'Major.'   

Pick of the bunch for us, though, has been Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivanii.  None of my plants is a named variety - they're all self-sown seedlings - but what performers! These are proper 'black-eyed Susans' with chocolate centres, durable, egg-yolk ray florets and good standing power.  Few autumn perennials have benefited as much as they, from the wet summer.  

 Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivanii on 6th September in our autumn border.

No time for gardening. 
The PG and I will cross the Atlantic, next week, to travel across the United States.  It's a big trip and more to the point, the first we've taken, in decades,  purely for pleasure.  Work of one kind or another has influenced almost everything we've done overseas, for the last 30 years.  But this trip is, essentially, a jolly.

I'm not telling you our itinerary – you'll have to watch that unfold – but I can reveal that Washington, Chicago and San Francisco are on our route though, alas, New Orleans, Charleston and Seattle are not.

The U.S. Presidential Election campaigns will add political spice.  But they probably won't prevent me from being baffled about how American politics actually work.  We'll see, first hand, the effects of the worst drought since the 1930s, in the Mid-West, and will try to understand its devastating effect on people who earn their living from agriculture.   And in parts of California, there's a potentially deadly mouse-borne virus which may, or may not change our plans.

We will also be spending a night on  RMS Queen Mary, at Long Beach, Ca.  She is not a cruise ship but rather, an ocean liner.  It won't be my first time aboard her.  As I write these words, on 7th September, I recall that on the same date in 1964, I was crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary and would return, four years later, on her sister Cunarder RMS Queen Elizabeth.  More on her in a week or three.

There'll be some strange, quirky and hopefully, entertaining dispatches, on the blog, so watch this space.

Just now, though, we're in a pother and a dither over what to take and what to leave.  It will be hot in some places but cold in others.  And in September it can freeze overnight but swelter at midday.  What's more, we'll be tramping along mountain tracks one day, and poncing about in fancy city venues the next.  And we've imposed a  rule on ourselves that each must be able to carry all our own luggage, so cabin trunks are out and porters only employed when we're desperate.  (Expect a rant, in forthcoming issues, about America and the Tipping Culture!)

One of our fences, expertly wired and beautifully furnished with burgeoning climbers – not! The shadows are pretty, though!

We'll travelling mainly by train – no internal flights.  But every time I think of that, my mind fills, not with sensible clothing lists, but with images of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag, in Some Like it Hot.  Or of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye singing Snow!, with George Clooney's Aunt Rosemary and owner of the world's most waspish waist, Vera Ellen.  What a crime that Vera Ellen was not given equal star status with Crosby, Kaye and Clooney in that deliciously cloying festive extravaganza White Christmas!

And thank heavens for iPads!
Usually, on long trips, we take enough books to fill a cabin trunk - a Dickens or three, some poetry, field guides on birds, flora and mammals, travel guides, real ale guides, restaurant guides and so on.  But for this trip, just The Birds of North America in print and Audubon Field guide Apps for the rest.

I've never read a word of G. K. Chesterton – perhaps a bad omission, so for £1.99 I downloaded his complete works.  And for good measure, added complete works of DH Lawrence and Joseph Conrad, both of whom are overdue for re-reading.  And to think that as well as being weightless and fitting within the iPad, this huge volume of literature has cost me only £5.97!

I'm Listening to Schubert's Der Winterreise sung by the sadly missed and incomparable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.  He died earlier this year.

This week's film was Ralph Fiennes' adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus.  Not my favourite play, even on stage, but the first part of this film wasn't even Shakespeare.  It began like a Hollywood-style action movie, geared for unhealthy adolescent minds and concentrating on killing as noisily and as graphically as possible.  But after half an hour, and with amazing performances from Vanessa Redgrave and Fiennes himself, the remnants of the original play, and a glimmer of Shakespeare's genius showed through.

COMING SOON...  Heathrow security, jetlag, a dip in the Hudson and a report on whether New Yorkers are as rude as Londoners, these days. 

Bye bye.