Ever since PG (hereafter referred to as LP where L stands for Little) went off to cure the sick in the land-of-milk-and-honey and broke our hearts (but thats a different post), various schemes of visiting her have been made and foiled. If it wasn’t cancelled leaves it was someone falling ill. Finally in May the pieces fell into place and The Visit was planned. Leaves were approved, visa done and Tripadvisor rummaged. And then four days before I was supposed to fly, the good people of Air India decided they…err…did not want to. In a nightmarish deja vu of the visa fiasco of the last trip I was again running pillar to post (this time figuratively, on the phone) getting it sorted. Which finally happened – at some extra cost, a day’s delay in travel and general panic. But happen it did! So off I went (S was to join in a week’s time due to work). There was a long layover in Paris and it was frustrating not to be able to leave the airport for a quick tour…I consoled myself with the fact that 7 days had not been enough last time in this very favourite city of mine – 7 hours would have just been torture. Since I’d stayed awake on the flight watching movies, I spent the layover sleeping at impossible angles on chairs, one hand on luggage, and then some time at the playstation centre there. It was not fun I can tell you, not even a little. And the half-an-hour free internet was like the exciting trailer of a movie you won’t get to see. Also somehow the Kindle doesn’t cut it when you’re tired and want to read. But all worries were forgotten once I landed at JFK – I was going to meet LP after almost a year! When I finally survived the long immigration queues and came through to the other side (he he) there she was looking pretty as a pie, and a little anxious. Apparently she had thought the delay was due to me being detained a la SRK style. Those of you who have a sibling you never thought will end up living half a world away, will know what it feels like when you meet them after a break. Someday I will be a good enough writer to describe it.
We were going to be in NY for the next 5 days before heading off to Philadelphia to LP’s place. The first night we were staying at a friend’s place in the upper east side, and later we were booked into an apartment in midtown central. The locations are important to understand the whirlwind travelling around the city that was the next few days. Before going any further let me put it down in stone (or wordpress) – I love NY. The memories of my first trip there as a teenager are slowly becoming hazy, but after this one I can confidently state that it holds true. It has a little something to do with the rushing crowds, rushing adrenaline, the acceptance in the snobbishness, the Manhattan skyline at dusk, a lazy sunny afternoon in Central Park with lime-ice popsicles, the smart shoes and coats, the people in the subways who neither stare at you rudely nor ignore you completely. The line on a billboard summed it up perfectly – “New York – tolerant of your beliefs, judgemental of your shoes”.
Everyone we met over the next few days showed us a different NY from their perspective, and we ended up seeing not one but multiple cities. While CM (the crazy ‘aunt’ who has been source of all things fun every since we were tiny) initiated us into the delightful sights and tastes of Chelsea Market after a walk on the wonder that is the NY High Line, another friend helped us discover the night life in the meatpacking district and the NY hangouts frequented by Carrie Bradshaw ;). An old school pal of LP’s spirited us off late in the night to “PDT-Please Don’t Tell” in the east village – a pub designed in the form of prohibition-era watering-holes, where you need to call them from a red telephone booth kept near the entrance to ask for reservations, after which a tiny door is opened into a big underground tavern. What makes it even more fascinating is that on the outside its a nondescript, shabby looking fast food joint. Talk about not judging a book by the cover and all that. Taking tips from another aunt who though not there with us in NY, was nevertheless present in spirit, we made forays into the NY City Ballet and Broadway, watching goggle-eyed as the Phantom of the Opera crooned the Music of the Night. The music has lodged itself in my head (on a separate note, during the recent excitement over the Dark Knight, it suddenly struck me how the fascination with the ‘dark knights’ is an ancient phenomenon. The lyrics of the song are as relevant today as it was then). Also thanks to social media (yes the F-word), acquaintances who came to know we are in the area sent all sorts of kind messages offering help if required, while friends demanded to know the time and place of meeting after (rightly) abusing us for not informing them earlier. If any of you are reading this, I plead not-guilty and blame it on Air India who did their best to ensure that the whole trip was a touch-and-go thing. Especially a dear couple who came down all the way to Manhattan on a week day just for a few hours, and another friend who took us home to meet his wonderful family.
And then there was the NY which LP and I just discovered by ourselves. Its difficult to pen because its so personal and I selfishly want those memories to be just ours. One place we stumbled upon reminded me of the lines from “Namesake” when he takes his son to the rocks on the sea and tells him something like “remember how we came together to the end of the world and there was nowhere to go from there”. It was good to be just two of us in the middle of all the frenzy. We wandered around in awe at the Holocaust Memorial (a source of constant disbelief to me that this actually happened) and the WTC Memorial site, skipped around Wall Street with LP rolling her eyes when I stood around to take the obligatory picture of the “Bull”, and sipped Chai-Tea-Latte at Starbucks. We played favourites at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, skipping the Egyptian section and heading straight for the Impressionists, discovering Jackson Pollock, and succumbing to the temptation of picking up prints. Relived my childhood fantasy of ‘Legoland’ at the Rockefeller Centre and lost LP in the furry department at FAO Shwarz. We didn’t make it to the MOMA this time nor Gramercy Tavern, but in true terminator style – “I’ll be back”! LP was on a mission to make me taste all her favourite things – so 3 years of wisdom was being squeezed into a few days, which was delightful on the taste buds but not so much on the waistline! So while breakfast was at a typical “American Diner”, lunch was at a French bistro on the Upper East Side, dimsums in Chinatown, dinner at the swanky Hudson Hotel and dessert was cheesecake at Junior’s in Time Square. And somewhere between all this there were cupcakes.
We were sharing a room after a long long time – and in spite of all the changes in our lives it really was much the same. The only role reversal was that after crashing at dawn I was waking up earlier than her (its my holiday mode and leaves me as soon as I’m back home), while she poor thing was trying to get some sleep on her holiday. This of course ensured we were late every morning and would grab breakfast (cream bagel with locks for me and croissant and tea for her) at a little cafe just below the apartment, which turned out to be run by people from Bangladesh whose cheery smiles and “bhalo acho” was a good start to the day. Another time a guy selling Tylenol (yes when in Rome, chuck Crocin) in the subway station actually offered us a discount when he heard us talking in bangla! You’ve got to love NY. Then CM joined and started “babying” us and it was just like back-to-school days, only better-dressed! Speaking of dresses, heres the thing – LP likes to shop (and given that she can wear just about anything and look good, it works for her). I on the other hand am more of a need-base shopper, and for some strange reason start getting aches and pains if I have to browse for too long. But like we have done all our lives, we worked out a system which made both happy. So all shopping expeditions would be interspersed with food breaks or site-seeing forays. And I cant complain about the results seeing that I picked up some lovely stuff I never would have by myself (in NY it was only – what else – shoes!).
Looking back, the few days in NY are like a kaleidoscope of events, with some standing out in flashes, others merging to form a colourful backdrop. Of course it was not enough, but then it never really is.