Thursday, 26 November 2015

Rockette!

We're sitting in the lobby of our hotel waiting to collect our bags before making our way across town to Penn Station and on to Newark Airport where the holiday officially ends. We have a night flight, which is guaranteed to be hell. In my experience the person in front of me will recline his seat almost immediately, and, for six hours, I will feel trapped like an insect in a Venus Fly Trap. It will be hot and stuffy, my nose will get blocked and my eyes will get all scratchy!

Our last day in New York started in our hotel room watching the Thanks Giving parade on TV. It seems to be a parade of giant balloons which starts up at Central Park and heads down to Macy's on 34th. It was odd to think of it happening in real time just two blocks away, but there was no way we were going to get caught up in all of those crowds. There was also a sense amongst some of the New Yorkers we met this week that the parade might be the target of a bit of terrorist nonsense. Besides, I don't like balloons shaped as Sponge Bob Square Pants. After about twenty minutes of watching, it became clear that the parade was one long advert, with the TV show presenters reading little spiels about the companies who had sponsored the floats. If you ask me, the brutal commercialisation I was witnessing goes entirely against the spirit of the day.

Even more horrifying were the cheerleaders on the parade who were twirling replica rifles, which I found distasteful in the extreme. After everything that has happened in the past few months, you'd think someone would have had the decency to suggest they return to twirling batons. What kind of message is America trying to send to the rest of the world?

...And of course the city is bracing itself for Black Friday tomorrow, which is when people have fights in the streets and get involved in crushes and terrible accidents, all for the sake of a bargain. Last year we had it for the first time in the UK, and it was, by all accounts, predictably revolting. TV and radio adverts over here encourage people to be the first in the queues with ludicrous incentives. What on earth has the world come to?

The other thing I find a little perplexing in New York is the fact that all buildings are steam heated centrally, which means you can do very little to control how hot or cold they are inside. I've heard talk of people sleeping with fans on during the winter because their flats are so hot. I can't think it's the best way to conserve energy. My mouth and nose have been permanently dry as a result of being here. It's surely not good for people?

Anyway, enough of the whinging. This city is beautiful and remains one of my favourite places on earth.

It's been unseasonably hot today. T-shirt weather hot. We took the subway underneath the mayhem of the parade and crossed Manhattan to the West Side at 34th to walk the length of the High Line, an old railway line elevated above the streets, a little like Parkland Walk in North London, which fell into disuse in the late 1960s. I learned today that the last cargo train which went along its route was carrying frozen turkeys!

During the 70s and 80s no one had any idea what to do with it. Plants started growing out of the old sleepers and it became a haven for wildlife.

In the 90s, the authorities decided to pull it down, at which point, two young men stepped into the limelight and lobbied the world to turn the tracks into a long, thin parkland, which would snake its way from the Meat Packing District to 34th street, twenty-five blocks north.

It's absolutely beautiful and has become a display ground for large scale art, sculpture and installations, a wonderful green space and a brilliant location for New Yorkers to head to when the hustle and bustle of the city becomes too much. There are hundreds of quirky benches and tables up there, little tranquil corners away from the main paths, lawns, and tremendous glass walls which allow people to look across the city from the elevated position.

New Yorkers have obviously taken it to their hearts. Many cafes, bars and hotels along the walk's length have the words "High Line" in their title, and all sorts of chi-chi/cool bars are opening up in the railway arches below the tracks. There's even a tiny ice rink!

We took the subway back up to Mid Town where we decided to embrace Americana and attend the Rockettes' Christmas Spectacular at Radio City. I guess it's the New York equivalent of a pantomime and the Last Night of the Proms rolled into one. Out here, it's iconic!


Radio City Hall is the most astonishing example of 1920s Art Deco. It is vast, and glorious: Like being inside a giant shiny pumpkin!


The show itself is brash, over-the-top, camp and schmaltzy. The huge stage is flanked by two fully-operational Wurlitzer organs which appear and disappear behind curtains like coffins at a crematorium. A full orchestra rises from below the stage. And then the Rockettes appear, kicking their legs and flicking their arms with the precision of robots. I have probably never seen such in-sync dancing.


Just when you think it can't get any bigger, it just gets bigger. More singers. More dancers. Dwarves. Real-life camels. 40 life-sized toy soldiers. 60 dancing Santas. A 3D film. Two ice skaters spinning like dervishes. Of course it's all grotesque, but it HAS to be seen. The Brits would never do it. We're too arch. It would need to be done as an ironic statement, or a piece of campery, which would make it instantly lose any potential audience because no one would understand how they were meant to view it. But actually, sometimes it's really rather nice to simply let go of all that coolness and imagine what it would be like to be a child watching. Believing in magic...


I felt vulnerable in the theatre. I'll not lie. It will take a while to get over the horror of Paris and not feel like a giant sitting duck in a theatre audience. I found myself planning various escape routes. It's ludicrous. Mostly because it's exactly what they want us to feel.


Anyway, Nathan tells me it's now time to start our journey to Penn Station, so I'll wish you all a very pleasant day... And catch up with you when I'm back in London.

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