The apartment I am staying in at the top of Central Park is so close to Harlem, I am a blade of grass away from starting a Civil Rights movement.
The park itself is glorious and, in afternoon light, rather beautiful. It is also very long. Very, very long. So, when I set out to walk it from 106th wearing my Malcolm X T-shirt (well, not really, but I might as well have been), I quickly realized after 35 blocks and reaching just 72nd that I would have to save the other 71 blocks for another day and stop for a beer.
I chose the AG Kitchen on Columbus and, wouldn’t you know it, it was Happy Hour. Hours, as it happened: 3.30pm to 6.30pm. That’s what I call very happy indeed. The place was a mix of European ex-pats and Americans, and, inevitably for me, within a short space of time I was a local with a whole new set of friends, debating American politics. I don’t need much encouragement to come out of my shell. In fact, as crustaceans and their shells go, I am more crab cake than hermit crab.
My apartment is also close to Whole Foods. Ah, yes. Whole Foods. You can’t beat it: the focal point of any neighborhood guaranteed to make you spend your two weeks’ holiday money in half an hour.
It was with some trepidation that I set off to the store, also on Columbus Avenue. I tell you, Columbus himself could not have been more thrilled at his discovery as I was alighting upon this Cornucopia of riches.
There isn’t just a wine section – it’s a whacking great separate store next door. As for the forest of salad greens, it could feed an army of rabbits through two world wars. And beans – red beans, yellow beans, pink beans, spotty beans, fat beans, thin beans….
Whole Foods has a new health drive (“the healthiest store in America”), which would be all well and good, were it not for the wine sale a couple of yards away. I stocked up on both food and wine and, because of the exchange rate, was not horrified by the bill.
Far more frightening were the individuals en route. I have never encountered so many individuals singing to themselves before 10am. And I don’t mean humming. I mean full numbers, complete with arms flailing and, in some cases, accompanied by a few dance steps.
The area is a bit like Tower Hamlets in London – high rise buildings and the feeling of a giant shadow consuming anything that comes within its grasp.
I was impressed, however, by the number of “gourmet delis”– until I went inside. Upper Central Park, or Lower Harlem as I like to call it, has a plethora of the things, all of them filled with so many men packing shelves, you can’t make it through the store without sat nav.
As for the quality of the goods…. Let’s just say that as gourmet delis go, Harrods Food Hall they ain’t.
I’m now on day two and planning my next adventure. The subway beckons, as does Downtown, where I might visit Soho House, the private members’ club I joined in London over 25 years ago and which now has clubs all over the world. The LA club, with 360 degree views of the city, is the best; the Miami venue, where smoking is allowed indoors, the worst.
I have to fit in a museum, too, so am heading for the Museum of Sex (known as MoSex) on 5th Avenue. The last sex museum I went to was in Amsterdam 30 years ago, and sex has come a long way since then – unlike my sex life, which hasn’t. It’s been so long, they might well make me an exhibit in the museum, so if you don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know where to find me.
I have just one memento from the Amsterdam sex museum: a photo of me cradling a 20- foot, circumcised penis (not real, should you be a little frightened at this point) with my tongue hanging out. Funny. Most people return with a pair of clogs.
The rest of my time there was spent throwing Dutch guilder into a machine in a small booth to watch a movie. It featured a woman threatening to take her kit off and then, just at the key moment when the money was about to run out, stopping. There were no men to watch, alas.
As museums go, it wasn’t exactly Natural History (well, it was in one way, I suppose), so I eagerly anticipate what MoSex has to offer. Having lived in LA for five years, my experience of American men so far is that they pay for everything.
Everything for every other woman in the bar, except me.
I am hoping that the Museum of Sex will offer me some tips.
And not those of the circumcised kind.