Friday, September 30, 2005

Enough! I've had enough. A day and a half in New York and I'm ready to quit. I hate cities at the best of times, and this is not the best of times. I'm tired and irritable and homesick, and I don't need all this aggression. And New York is full of it. On the streets, in the parking garages, even in Starbucks.

Rudeness and belligerence seem like badges of honour to be worn with pride. Someone told me that after 9/11 New Yorkers changed. They became gentler, more considerate. Drivers stopped cutting each other up on the streets and leaning on their horns at the least provocation. Now, they said, it's just back to how it was before, only worse.

Through a day of driving around the city, narrow arteries squeezed between tall buildings, choked and turbulent, I only seem able to recall angry faces on the street, glimpsed through my passenger window - a man, his face contorted by anger, screaming at us as we stopped to avoid him on a pedestrain crossing; the man in the car behind spitting rage at our backs because the car in front has decided, unaccountably, to stop; the car parking attendant who growled at us when we went to retrieve our car ten minutes before he was due to close.

And parking is just impossible. We went in search of the Hard Rock Café on Times Square for lunch and pulled into a space in a line of cars. When we couldn't find a pay station for parking, Le Beau Frère went into a police booth to ask a couple of police officers for advice. Neither could be bothered to remove his feet from the desk. They chewed on gum, and regarded us with something close to contempt. And their advice? No parking anywhere. Find a parking garage.

Well, we looked. Downtown parking lots - about the size of the average living room - were charging eleven and twelve dollars per half hour. It would have cost us more to park than to eat. So we crossed beneath the Hudson to Hoboken in New Jersey and found a nice quiet restaurant where the waiter managed to spill my wine all over Le Beau Frère, and then didn't even offer to replace the glass.

Why does anyone want to live in a city? After all, cities are just a bunch of buildings squeezed into a small space, choked with people, noisy, dirty and polluted. It's after one in the morning as I write this, and all I can hear from the street outside are sirens. People tell me they like cities because of the theatre, and the concerts, and the museums. But who goes to plays and concerts and museums every day? You can visit the city for these things if they are so important, but still manage to live somewhere more civilised, where people smile and talk to you and say hello, where they meet your eye and nod when you enter a restaurant, where they'll stop to let you pull out from the kerb and into the traffic.

My mood today was not helped by the weather. It was windy, cold and wet - big, fat drops of rain thundering down on the roof of our SUV. Everything in America is bigger, they say. Even the raindrops, it seems.

I stopped at the Murder Ink bookstore on Broadway to see if they had any of my books to sign. They had not responded to a single e-mail from La Patronne when she was setting up the tour. They had one book. I signed it and left.

Next stop was the Mysterious Bookshop in West 56th Street. This was a scheduled drop-by signing, and they had eleven books for me to sign.

Tomorrow night I follow in the footsteps of Ruth Rendell at the Partners & Crime bookstore in Greenwich Village. We called in during the afternoon to say hello, and I was immediately recognised and warmly greeted. A friendly face and a ready smile were very welcome after a tense and trying day.

I carried that warmth with me gratefully back to the apartment, where we slept for an hour before heading out for drinks at the apartment of Susie's friends, Barbara and Mike, on York Avenue, overlooking the East River. We had a good evening, heading out to eat at Café Joul on First Avenue. Fine food and good company raised our spirits ahead of tomorrow's event. In spite of everything, I'm still looking forward to it.

My talk is part of a "British week" at the store, but because my books are set in China, they are laying on dumplings and Tsing Tao beer. I met Maggie, one of the partners, at Bouchercon - which seems like an eternity ago, now. She was an animated and flame-haired lady of great enthusiasm. I still carry that enthusiasm with me, and I think it is going to be a fine event.

The View Across to Manhattan from Hoboken

Barbara, Mike, Le Beau Frère, Shannon (Susie' daughter), Susie and La Patronne at Café Joul


Anonymous said...

Cher Pierre et Janice
Enough is enough!!! It's time now to come back with us ! We miss you!!!
Bienvenue à Puymule!!!
When will you arrive in Puymule ?
Tell me on my mail.

Bonne fin de séjour et à bientôt. Nous sommes à Puymule jusqu'à jeudi prochain.

On vous embrasse,

Laurène et Roger

Anonymous said...

Sorry you found NYC to be such a downer. I'd give you some friendly advice for "next time" but it sounds as if "next time" will be a few years or so after never.
Bacon Man