New York City

A few days in Manhattan with very generous friends yielded some wonderful experiences: a night at the Met for two operas, visits to the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection, the former unrivalled in the scope of its collections and latter functioning as a one-stop introduction to the main developments in Western art since the Renaissance, the delights of Central Park, surely unrivalled elsewhere in the world, and meetings with some memorable people associated with Columbia University and the General Theological Seminary. Perhaps the highlight was a stroll along the High Line, a recent development that follows a disused railway line on the lower west side which has given an impetus to residential developments, some of them rather toney, in adjacent areas. And of course there is the unsurpassed architecture of the city. Some of it, the Romanesque, Gothic and renaissance, is hardly indigenous, and even the skyscraper was imported from Chicago, but rarely in the history of the word have money and taste been so matched.

I will never forget the breathtaking experience of looking out of a train window some years ago and, totally unexpectedly, catching sight of the skyline of Manhattan for the first time. Despite some recent additions, the line of tall buildings has been grievously shortened since then. One of the consequences of 9/11 has been a higher level of civility in the city, although New York remains a noisy, rough, attention-grabbing and in-your-face kind of city, where use of the subway generates a frisson I experience nowhere else. This can also be true of travelling in the busses, for the signs you read before boarding that warn against assaulting the driver give you a sense of being in a dangerous place. But once you settle into your seat a great pleasure can lie before you, for on the flimsiest of pretexts, strangers start talking to each other. They are often people who don’t seem to have much in common, but their conversations are invariably polite and mutually respectful, from which people part on good terms. Years ago I noticed that, whereas Australians can be awkward talking with other people, Americans know how to lubricate conversations so that they keep on moving. There are unexpected pleasures being in the Big Apple.

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