Roberta’s

Rustic plank table, chilli flakes in the Parmesan shaker, salt shaker and three wilting chrysanthemums in a squat glass bottle; multi-coloured party lights drape from shelves and windows; unpolished concrete floors; two overhead fans rotate lazily; mirrors, hipster paintings, a pogo stick and a toy truck complete the interior decoration. My eyes keep coming back to one painting in particular: an homage to an iconic scene from Brokeback Mountain, the two central characters appear to be wearing masks that are a cross between a goat and a clown. This in no way diminishes the impact of the intimacy imbued in their body language.

‘Here’s your coffee, my dear.’ A hand reaches down and delivers the quintessential cup of American coffee: over-sized white ceramic cup and saucer, inky black liquid with a few bubbles clinging to the edge, two sugar sachets and tiny stainless steel jug of cold creamer. I look up to say thank you and am greeted by a perfect Roberta’s waiter.

Sleeveless, cropped white logo t-shirt, Levis 501 jeans fraying at the ankle, blue floral Converse high tops, baseball cap worn reversed, a two-day growth and multiple chain around his neck. His disarming smile compels me to continue to look into his eyes. His runaway blonde hair pokes out from beneath his hat. I can now read his t-shirt – THE FUTURE IS FEMALE. It is only now that I see that he wears glitter on his skin. It is lightly applied all over his face.

‘You’re wearing glitter,’ I say unnecessarily.

‘Yes, I am.’

‘Is that a cream or do you just sprinkle it on your face?’

‘I actually apply a bit of oil to stay hydrated and then I dab it on my face. It’s a special body glitter.’

‘I have a real glitter phobia but, on you, I like it.’ I make redundant hand motions just to drive the point home.

‘Oh, thank you.’ He half bows as best he can due to our close proximity. ‘Do you know that strippers aren’t allowed to wear any glitter?’ I nod genuinely interested. ‘Cause it sticks to the skin of people they come into close contact with.’ We both giggle at the possibilities of punters explaining to their significant others where the glitter came from.

‘What’s your name? I’m Mandy.’ I stick out my hand.

‘I’m Pedro.’

When he turns to get back to work, I think I can almost see rainbows and unicorns revolving around him.

‘Cheers.’ An icy tumbler of pale pink, alcoholic goodness is deposited by another waiter. This one is wearing a black band t-shirt, turned up jeans, black socks with runners that have seen better days and sports a high pony-tail and bandana. My ‘savage garden’ cocktail is skinos (a Greek spirit) agave gin, strawberries and coconut. It tastes like a grown-up’s version of a kids’ party drink. It’s fruit-sweet without being cloying, perfectly cold and the coconut milk adds a welcome creaminess.

Before long my ‘white and greens’ pizza arrives. Thin but not-too-thin base, still a bit chewy with that tang you get from a long-fermented sourdough. An adequate layer of mozzarella cheese (grated more finely than is the usual) is laid down with the additional onion I requested, then into the ferocious wood-burning pizza oven which backs onto the street. The balance of the kitchen is at the opposite end of the restaurant. Wood burning pizza ovens are a wonderful thing. They produce an intense heat which cooks food quickly and with plenty of flavour. But that heat has to go somewhere and not all of it goes up the chimney. It’d be a great place to work in winter but not summer so much.

Back to the pizza – the mozzarella and onion-ed base is given its obligatory few minutes in the oven, then topped with ‘greens’ which appear to be a mix of friselle, parsley, arugula and other unidentifiable bits. The pizza then gets a liberal dose of freshly-grated Parmesan and is plonked on a warm metal tray, cut into six slices and delivered to the lucky table. I demolish in about the same amount of time that it took to prepare and cook.

Yesterday was a full day for me. I was up at 5.45am in London to meet my 6.15am shuttle from the Hilton airport hotel, which naturally did the rounds of the other airport hotels before dropping me at Terminal 3. I then spoke to the check-in staff who were too perky by far for that time in the morning, collected my boarding passes and began the fun that is submitting oneself to security procedures at airports these days. It was just after 7.30am when I found my way to the lounge which looks like a cross between the Star Trek command deck and a 1970s swingers’ party. That was the highlight of my day. I spent the next 18 hours either queueing, waiting, flying or waiting some more.

Back to Roberta’s. I’ve said this before about a few places this trip and I’ll say it again – good thing I don’t live here as I’d be here way too often. It isn’t the cocktail list with cbd oil additions. It isn’t the quirky artistic vibe of the staff. It isn’t even the delicious food and tempting drinks list. It isn’t that they have a thriving kitchen garden to augment their orders. I don’t know what’s it is exactly, I just feel like I belong here.

First cocktail down, pizza tray cleared, coffee now gone cold and I figure it’s best to down a glass of water. I’ve still got a few hours to fill before I need to leave for the airport and I need to keep my wits about me. Today’s flight will take me to New Orleans and that place is not known for its restrained sobriety. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

I order a second cocktail – the WIFI which is ironic because this joint doesn’t offer free wifi unlike many places in the United States. I’m okay with that. Six weeks of travelling without constant connection has broken the habit. Social media doesn’t distract me like it has in the past.

Aviation gin, watercress, lime and cbd oil. The watercress means that drink is the colour of healthy grass. No doubt it also helps tone down the flavour and colour of the cbd oil. The drink comes in a squat conical glass. Without ice like my previous one, this drink is a sipper. It’s concentrated flavour. By its conclusion, I’m definitely feeling more relaxed but I can’t testify as to whether that’s from the cbd oil or due to the pizza and cocktails.

The day has warmed up and I’m thinking ice cream may just hit the spot. The staff are very attentive so it’s not before long that another waiter swings by my table, so I enquire. Doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?

‘We got almond, blueberry and burnt fig. You can have it as is or in a sticky bun.’ I can detect an accent of sorts but I’ve no idea where it’s from. That’s something I’ve experienced a lot in America, or to be more precise, in New York. Most people are from somewhere else. Whether as tourists visiting or as recent residents, a myriad of languages and accents are heard throughout the city. But big cities are like that, and New York even more so. It represents possibility. Your dreams can come true, in theory anyway.

‘So did you decide if you want any gelato? I think the blueberry’s the best.’

‘You’ve convinced me,’ I say. Sometimes it’s easier to let other people make the small decisions. I don’t really care what flavour, I have. I just feel like a little something cold and sweet. I’m grateful to be able to get just one scoop. Meal sizes here can be over-whelming, especially when I usually want to try multiple dishes.

At the small table next to me, two women of dressed in jeans and flannel shirts make their way through a couple of pizzas. One leaves the crusts uneaten on her plate. It takes every ounce of willpower that I have not to lean over and ask her if I can have them. I’m not hungry after my full pizza but I abhor waste and pizza crust is yummy, particularly these pizza crusts. The crust is where you get the full flavour of the dough, slightly smoky and charred from the oven plus all that sour dough taste. I guess the real test will come when they get up and leave. Will I leave those morsels be? I’m saved from myself by one of the many waitstaff who arrives to clear the plates

They ask for the cheque and one says, ‘At least, I eat all my crusts.’

I smirk while the waiter retorts, ‘Well, I wasn’t going to say anything but.’

I’m presented with my dessert. The bowl cradles one generous scoop of the most intense blueberry gelato you’ve ever had. Well, I had it, not you. It’s perched atop wafers which taste like a version of cornflake. These are glued to the bowl with a delicious honey that they probably harvest from their garden. I lean forward so as not drip any of the purple dessert on my top. My luggage is packed and I don’t fancy opening it up in the middle of the restaurant to find something clean but crushed to wear. I’ve only got two and a half hours to get through unscathed until I make my way to the airport.

A stack of glasses are knocked over but the soundtrack of pumping background music and hearty conversation doesn’t pause one iota. Each table has now filled up and three lone wolves perch at the bar. I move to a corner and nab a vacant power socket to charge my ipad and phone. More pleasant to do it here where they serve drinks than to try find a spot at the airport where the drinks are over-priced and of unpredictable quality.

The lunch rush comes and goes. Tables are re-set and the odd person remains, lingering over a drink. I’m one of those people. Suddenly, my phone buzzes. I had forgotten that it was still in vibrate mode. No one has called my phone for weeks. Apart from the obligatory message from my service provider to tell me what country I was in and that I was eligible for a day pass for only $10 a day. Yeah, no thanks.

‘THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is required.’

I’d heard about this FEMA test on the radio the day prior while getting a lift from the airport to my accommodation. 75 percent of mobile phones are expected to display this message. Around the restaurant, people pick up their phones, spend a few seconds and put them back down.

With a numb bum and an empty glass, I reluctantly decide that it’s time to make the break. I do and I don’t want to. I want to go to New Orleans and I want stay here in my new favourite place with my new favourite people. I bite the bullet, call for the bill and gather my luggage. With the receipt signed , I tip well and walk out the door.

Goodbye Roberta.

I love you, whoever you are.

Tuesday September 4th 12.10pm Butter & Scotch Bar and Bakery.

Tuesday September 4th

12.10pm Butter & Scotch Bar and Bakery.

Bar AND bakery, I hear you say. Yes, bar and bakery. Why does this concept not happen more? They open at 9am and offer brunch options until mid-afternoon. Think sandwiches in the American sense ie hot fillings sometimes toasted and often in a bun not bread, biscuits/savoury scones, sweet pies, cake, ice cream – cause, you know, America.

This morning I tried to go to the Museum of Women’s Resistance but, alas, it appears to be no more. Damn internet! Promising a vibrant experience that in reality is a nondescript townhouse with a for sale sign hanging out front. Of course, it was bound to happen at least once this trip. Occasionally, the internet doesn’t always tell the truth. Who knew.

So that’s how I made it to this oasis earlier than planned. On this trip, I’m trying not to consume alcohol before noon although the crossing of time zones can mess with one’s sense of whose noon it really is. It’s quiet in here; there are a couple of guys sitting at the bar drinking coffee plus me. The air conditioning is strong and welcome. My 4000 steps this morning were hard work in the relentless sunshine.

‘How you doing this warm day?’ The barman stands behind the bar polishing glasses in the way that barmen all over the world do.

‘Better now,’ is my response.

‘Yeah, it’s getting warm out there.’

I slide along the wall, edging past the two guys perched on the chrome and vinyl bar stools. Black and white chequered tiles on the floor, painted, colour-blocked walls and a feature wall of red lips by the bathrooms signal the fun, casual vibe of the place. The mirrored wall behind the display of extensive spirits indicates it’s a bar in more than just name only. I grab a table near the bar for ease of service as much as conversation.

Traveling by myself has its pros and its cons. I don’t have to please anyone else but at times I crave human interaction beyond the cursory. In the mornings, as I’m having my mandatory two cups of tea, I listen to podcasts. It helps prepare me to interact with the big wide world outside my bedroom door. This trip is an ideal mix of time alone, time with family and time with friends old and new.

The obligatory glass of water is delivered with the menu. I opt to begin with a coffee with the encouragement of the barman despite my reticence for American coffee. He promises to attempt a piccolo latte for me. I’ve coached him through it and I reckon I’ll get something close. I do, in fact, receive a passable piccolo latte. The espresso shot has enough oomph for my liking and it’s not been watered down with too much milk. In reality, it is a flat white presented in a glass mug with a handle. Some sugar helps balance the dominant bitterness.

I scour the menu for a smaller-sized breakfast dish and I want to leave room for something sweet afterwards. Steve would be disappointed if I didn’t. I settle on the chicken, chilli and cheddar hand pie with salad. A hand pie is a filled pastry triangle by another name. The buttery pastry is flaky and tasty all on its own. The diced filling is good value on the chicken front with enough heat not to warrant any extra use of hot sauce or chilli-infused honey that sits on the table. A little light on the cheddar for my liking, it’s a small, insignificant criticism on my behalf. The mixed salad greens are perfectly dressed in a country where I often find dressings overwhelming the salad they’re supposed to complement.

Coffee downed and I decide to step things up a notch with a michelada. A tall glass is rimmed with spicy salt, then half-filled with ice, doused with hot sauce, and finished off with a crisp lager and a wedge of lime. I need to embrace these more in my summer life. It’s thirst quenching and substantial at the same time. I take photos, all the time thinking Steve would love it here.

The menu which is currently discarded on the table next to me promises desserts in a variety of styles: key lime pie, s’mores pie, daily special pie, unicorn cake, salted chocolate cookies, six flavours of ice cream. All these are made in the bakery section next door which I can see into through a doorway behind the bar. I finish up my breakfast grateful for the small serving and embark upon an in-depth consultation with my friendly barman. Between us we concoct a boozy milkshake based upon the key lime pie with coconut ice cream and added rum.

When it arrives, I’m not disappointed. It’s thick and creamy with generous amounts lime zest sprinkled on top. The rum comes through immediately and I give it a thorough stir in case I’m drinking all the rum first. I slurp again and it’s just as good. I don’t often order sweet things and I think I’ve only done it this time in honour of my absent partner. I’m delighted that I did and even more grateful that he’s not here because I don’t have to share it. It’s mine, all mine I tell you!

Sunday September 2nd Smorgasburg, Prospect Park Brooklyn

Sunday September 2nd Smorgasburg, Prospect Park Brooklyn

11.57am

Not quite noon and I’m full up to pussy’s bow. I’ve found a shady spot on some soft grass in between picnic rugs. It feels like it’s time for a nap. I arrived an hour ago as the food stall event was opening. The sound of grills being lit and ice tipped into cooler bins was the soundtrack to my entrance. Grabbing a cold coffee with whole milk at the first stall in, I decided a reconnoiter was in order. The business names delight and amuse me.

Takumi Taco

Lobsterdamus

Bonsai Kakigori Japanese shaved ice

Jian-bing Shanghai-inspired street food

Mighty Quinn’s slow smoked barbecue

Rooster Boy

Handsome Hank’s Fish Hut

Mao’s Bao

Noodle Lane

Oyster Party

Okay, first point of order. Figure out which stalls sell smaller portions. After one circuit, I decide the morning is best started with a blood orange donut to go with my coffee. For $3.75, I buy enough donut for 2 people. I ask for a bag so I don’t feel compelled to finish it all. The wooden picnic table under the large central tree are still pretty empty so I take one end in the shade of an umbrella. The coffee is disappearing fast, long before the ice has a chance to melt. The tartness of the donut is balanced perfectly by the soft sweet dough. I look around at the crowds that are starting to gather.

That ramen burger is so instagrammable

Anyone want to share some mozzarella sticks?

Excuse me sir, what’s that you’re eating?

‘I’m not hungry but . . .’

‘Well, I’m here so I might as well like go crazy.

What is it? A dumpling? Wanna share?

The best thing about the jet ski is that you feel like you’re going through time. I’m not even joking.

It’s toss up as to begin the savoury section of my brunch with a taco or a sandwich. Slow cooked beef brisket wins. Two generous slices of tender brisket complete with smoke ring at the outer edge are placed on a soft slider bun. Creamy coleslaw, pickled cucumber and rings of red chilli are then piled on top. I attempt to return to my spot to find it’s already taken. The tables soon become hot property whether they’re in the shade or not.

I point to a vacant spot and ask, ‘do you mind if I sit here?’

A Scottish accent replies, ’go for it.’

Plopping down on the bench opposite I place my bun, napkins and various wet wipes on the table. ‘What a place. The hardest thing is deciding what to get.’

‘I know. My girlfriend has just gone for another pass at things.’

‘What was that?’ I point to the detritus in front of him.

‘A philly cheese steak, from over there.’ He points behind and I make a semblance of turning to check it out.

‘Good?’

‘Great. We don’t get them in Glasgow.’

I press the top of my bun down in attempt to get solid purchase on my meal. Fortune favours the bold, it is said, so I abandon all decorum and get stuck in. Lifting the bun to my mouth, I take a generous bite, hoping to get some of each part of the whole. There’s nothing worse that the last mouthful of anything being just the salad, or just the pickles. Balance is important. I can feel something clinging to my chin. I grab the wholemeal napkin and wipe extensively.

Pale skin and ponytail bobbing, the girlfriend returns. ‘Hi, I’m Rachael.’

Wiping my hands hurriedly, I introduce myself. ‘Hi, I’m Mandy.’

My table buddy takes his turn. ‘Oh, sorry. I’m Grant.’

Friday 31st August NYC

2pm

After less fuss than it could have been, Simone and Richard are packed and ready to leave. It takes a couple of trips in the lift to get all the bags down to the lobby so I wait downstairs and mind the bags. I finger the door key in my pocket. With damp eyes, she steps from the lift with a dog in her arms.

‘I had to say goodbye,’ she explains. The white fluffy dog is clearly missing the sobriety of the moment as it moves around in her arms. The doorman wedges open the door and starts to roll the bags out to the curb. I take the smaller ones and roll them out also. Richard requests an Uber and stands by the curb looking up the street towards the Queensboro bridge. We corral the bags to take up less pavement space. A light breeze is keeping the morning cool and my sister wipes her eyes.

Minutes later a dark sedan pulls up and the driver eyeballs the amount of luggage. He pops the boot open and starts the game of Tetris that is packing the bags into the car. Cars start to bank up behind and the horns start. No one rushes and eventually the cars manoeuvre into the next lane and around.

‘You’re a real New Yorker now,’ I say. Last hugs, tight and held, and they’re in the car. I wait til they pull out into traffic before I turn to go inside. I pat the outside of my pocket to feel the key safely tucked inside. The streets are quieter this morning. It’s a Friday at the start of Labor Day weekend, the last hurrah of Summer. Richard’s favourite coffee spot two doors along is even closed. I turn, enter the lobby and go to wait for the elevator. Well, the one that is working anyway. The superintendent told me there’s little chance of getting a repair man out this weekend.

Back upstairs in the apartment, I take stock. I stack the dishwasher and open the fridge to see what might be consumed in the next 24 hours before I leave and what should be thrown out. My suitcase is mostly packed. The long-sleeve tops and cardigans haven’t even made it out of their packing cells since I arrived. I choose loose denim trousers, a black singlet and a black top. With a bit of make-up and some bling, I’m ready to hit the town. Well, a small section of it anyway.

I grab the bag with some of Richard’s leftover clothes on my way out the door. I’m heading for the goodwill store on 62nd and 1st. I’m determined not to get my phone to look at the map. Most of the pedestrians seem to be tourists this morning and I’m even able to give directions to one. Feeling quite chuffed, I saunter along and jay-walk with more confidence.

It’s mid afternoon when I make it to The Jeffrey. It’s a bar I’ve walked past many times and this time I’m going in. The front bar is buzzing and I’m grateful to arrive before it gets too busy. I locate an empty seat away from the door and swiftly the bar staff hand me a drinks menu. I open it up and instantly regret not bringing my glasses.

‘What can I get you?’ The pretty blond barmaid asks me.

‘I forgot my glasses so I’ll have to ask you for some recommendations.’

‘Here, borrow mine.’ The woman next to me hands me hers.

‘Oh, that’s very kind. Thank you.’ The prescription is so strong that I can’t make anything out. Meanwhile, the barmaid asks, ‘what kind of beer do you like?’

I lower the glasses.

‘All kinds. I’d like to try something local-ish. Something hoppy?’

While I’m poured a couple of tasters, I hand the glasses back to my neighbour. She reminds me of someone though I can’t place who. Tight grey curls ring her round, warm face. A bunch of cellophane wrapped flowers sit on the bar in front of her next to a glass of prosecco.

‘I’m Karen,’ (say this in your head long and drawn out). I introduce myself. She smiles and nods. ‘Ah, I recognise that accent. A coloniser.’

‘A coloniser?’ What am I missing here?

‘I’m from Jamaica. One of Britain’s colonies.’ She laughs and smiles and takes another swig of her drink.

‘Oh, no. I’m not a coloniser. I’m Australian. I’m a fellow colonist,’ I explain and take a gulp of my cold beer.

Friday 31st August – New York City

Friday 31st August

9.33am

Two loads of washing done and currently tumbling away in the dryer downstairs in the basement laundry. $2.00 a wash and $1.80 per 30 minutes drying. Apart from setting the alarm to remind oneself to go get the stuff, I reckon I could get used to this system. Though it needs to be said that the laundry is insufferably hot and stuffy in Summer, which it currently is here.

My sister and her partner are flying home to Australia today. Luggage is in various stages of being packed. Bags of rubbish, recycling and donating sit in different parts of the apartment. US friends came over this morning to comb through accumulated kitchen items for the taking. Bottles of olive oil, hardly-touched spice packets and half-empty packets of nuts made it into their grocery bags. Stacks of baking accoutrements remain on the kitchen bench while plastic storage containers were snaffled up.

New York City is such a transient place that this ritual is common as people move to and from the metropolis. These friends moved from Texas a year ago. Others I met have been here much longer, though it seems that everyone came from somewhere else first. Six months here was enough for Simone to feel the need to bake. This is one sign she isn’t a native New Yorker, whose kitchen is usually just a place to dish up take-out meals.

Preparing your own food is an act of self-determination. How thick I cut the bread? To butter it or not? How long I cook the eggs for? – these are all small decisions that we make each day according to own individual desires. While there’s no denying that there’s a certain freedom in eating out, it is something that I rapidly tire of. Maybe I don’t want to get dressed to go out and search for food. (In place of ‘get dressed’, feel free to substitute ‘put a bra on’ as essentially that’s what I’m saying.) Even answering the door to a food delivery can be more than I’m up for at times. Other times, I’m excited to find a café or restaurant where I can prop by myself, chat with the wait staff or read a book. Taking my time to choose a meal, the appropriate drink to go with it and savour the luxury of the whole experience.

When I prepare food for myself, I don’t have to consider that someone else may want some of the perfectly ripe cheese I bought. I can stand at the bench and pop one slice of jamon on my mouth for every piece that makes it to the plate. I can butter the thick slice of crusty bread before liberally sprinkling salt crystals over it. And finally, no one judges me for over-filling my wine glass which saves me a return trip to the fridge in the middle of my meal, thus rendering my food vulnerable to my cats.

Tuesday 28th August NYC

Tuesday 28th August

5.05pm and 34 degrees outside. Lucky for me I’m in 21 degree air conditioned comfort sipping on Blue Point Brewing’s Toasted Lager American style Amber. How it’s a lager and amber is beyond me. This afternoon I went for a wander. Not straying too far, I jay-walked like a local, I clung to the shade and I even had a cold coffee. It wasn’t from Starbucks, I promise. I took a cut through Bloomingdales – it’s just like any other city department store, in case you’re wondering – and passed by Sephora, Zara and H&M.

What made it feel unlike my hometown though was a few things. New York in the summer has a particular odour. It’s fetid. Stale urine, fried food, refuse in bags on the sidewalk, engine exhaust and subway venting all mix to produce an assault on the nostrils. Every now then it hits me in a wave and I reel back.

Hot dog carts on every corner selling dirty-water dogs, salted pretzels, iced drinks and more. I’ve not bought anything as they couldn’t appeal any less to me. I like trashy food but I can’t imagine that anything tastes good from them. Dubious refrigeration concerns me as much as flavour. I congratulate people for making a dollar where they can but I’m going skip the dirty-water dogs, thanks all the same.

I’m staying in the Upper East Side between Central Park and the Roosevelt Island Tramway. I mention the tramway because I’ve found it a useful visual guide to help me get my bearings. Numbering the streets helps immensely too. Now all I have to do is remember the address of my apartment.

On approach to the front door of the lobby I like to play a game. I try to hide behind the outside columns as I walk up and then suddenly appear by the glass doors. It keeps the doormen on their toes and their reflexes sharp. Only once have I managed to get my hand to the handle and attempt to open it myself. I smile and greet them and mostly they respond in kind.

There’s a sassy one I really like called Marek. He’s polish, tall and always wears black trousers, white shirt and black tie. He enquirers as to our day’s intended activities when we’re on our way out. He commiserates on the oppressive humidity when we return drained and battered. One evening after dinner at an Italian restaurant two doors over, Richard remained to philosophise about world issues. It was more than half an hour later that he’d finally appear back upstairs.

Monday 27th August – NYC

4.08pm

We return home, our temporary home, with tired and sweaty feet. The subway exit is a block and a half from the apartment. Climbing the steps up to the street is just that extra bit of struggle after a crowded, stuffy four-stop subway ride. Scaffolding covers a high percentage of the Manhattan footpaths and today I’m grateful for the shade it brings. Waiting on the corner for the lights to change, I announce my detour.

‘I’m going to pop into Dylan’s Candy Bar for a look around before coming up.’

‘You going to get something for Steve?’ my sister asks.

‘Probably. I’ll see upstairs in a bit.’ It’s across the road and only a few doors down. No chance of me getting lost on the way back.

I cross the road and push open the double glass doors. It’s a multi-coloured wonderland inside. Over-sized fixtures proffer packaged confections in every colour of the rainbow and more. Signs point to the café upstairs, the cotton candy bar downstairs, corporate gifting in a corner and much more. Walls of jelly beans in every conceivable flavour, shelves of boxed chocolates and stands of personalised mints delight and confuse the eyes.

‘They really do have every kind of candy,’ I hear one kid say.

Earlier in the afternoon we visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or as the cool kids call it The Met. When my sister first moved to New York, she made the fortuitous friendship with a woman who has a membership. After some fancy soirées and exclusive tours, she now knows her way around this cultural institution without a map. We picked one up for me anyway.

Room upon room of art from around the globe and through the ages is presented for one’s viewing pleasure. Writing tablets from ancient Sumer, a complete reception room from early 18th century Damascus and six-metre high fresco of Buddha are only some of my highlights. Over two hours we weave our way through the galleries and exhibition spaces. Simone has compiled her own top ten list: Madame X by John Singer Sargent (link here), Washington Crossing the Delaware (link here), The Oxbow by Stephen Hancock (link here) to name a few. If The Temple of Dendur doesn’t impress you, then something’s wrong.

It was a shame that due to an exhibition setting up, we couldn’t get to the Frank Lloyd Wright room. I love me a bit of interior design porn. Up and down the odd stair, we would settle in the quieter rooms for some restful contemplation. Every now and then, an unexpected vista would present itself through a doorway. I can’t say which piece was my favourite. That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child. It’s the middle one but don’t tell the other two.

So after a few hours in air-conditioned splendour, we trekked out into the heat of afternoon and the sauna that is the subway platform. I hope Gregory is staying cool.

Monday 27th August 7am Lenox Hill, New York City.

Monday 27th August

7am Lenox Hill, New York City.

Trucks finish up their morning deliveries before getting caught in the building traffic. Cream O’Land dairy products, Corona Ice, FedEx, R-Way, Seoul Glass, U-Haul, Absolute Electric, the synonymous yellow taxi cabs deftly weave their way around garbage compactor trucks which pause at the curb. It takes some time to get used to the piles of thick plastic bags of refuse which edge the pavement. Thick black plastic ones, clear plastic ones, stacks of cardboard tied neatly.

The balcony is on the north-west corner, 11 floors up. If I lean forward around one corner I can see the suspended tramway system that takes people over to the nearby Roosevelt Island. The Queensboro bridge runs high straight over the top of it. A quaint transport system it may be for visitors to the city but 8000 people live on the island and a university has been recently added. I’d choose RI as my fantasy residence: physically close but cut off by a river, New York but not New York, looking back at the city but not really a part of the city and catching a few cool winds off the Hudson River.

Clouds are sparse and high this morning, a cool breeze knock about the flowers and herbs which are setting their autumn seeds. A vapour marks the sky though there’s no trace of the plane that made it. Small flocks of birds dart around the skyscrapers. Shadows are shortening as the sun climbs. Curtains are opened on the glass behemoth opposite. Balconies are empty though if I lower my glasses and concentrate I can see the odd resident finishing their morning coffee before heading out into the world.

Cacophony is the only way to describe the mix of noise. High pressure cleaning off the pavement below, a masonry drill too close-by, horns in call and response, screeching brakes, that ever-present low hum of engines and other noises too foreign to pinpoint. It’s not the growing heat but the masonry drill that finally drives me inside to my air-conditioned cocoon.

New York City, NY – Monday 5th September – part 2

Approaching the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue, colloquially known as Museum Mile for good reason, the building holds none of the magic that the Guggenheim art museum commands. From street level the brick pattern neutral coloured exterior is just another sheer building face with nondescript gaps for windows. If you’re able to step back and look up without falling into the road, you’d see the fussy decoration of an over-sized French townhouse.

Outside the front door is a black suited security guard. This is a sight I’m getting very accustomed to by now. As I attempt to enter he places his arm in front of me so that I walk into it.

‘I’ll need to search your bag, ma’am,’ he announces as settle back onto the lower step, bumping into Steve. I open the zip expecting a cursory glance for guns and explosives. Clearly a man who takes his job seriously, the guard lifts my wallet, tissues and other unmentionables in pursuit of who knows what. Snuggly packed into an external mesh pocket of my handbag is a half-drained bottle of water.

‘You can’t bring that drink in here, ma’am,’ I’m advised brusquely. How the word ma’am can come across so aggressively, patronising and outright rude is beyond me. I am not sure I’ve ever used the word before in my life and I’m not about to start with this trip. Both sir and ma’am have been levelled at us often this trip with so little apparent meaning.

I breathe out slowly but deliberately. ‘Am I able to leave it with you?’

‘No, ma’am.’

I don’t move from my place on the doorstep and proceed to drink as much as I can. I offer it to Steve who on this occasion declines. Try as I might, I can’t quite finish it after a filling breakfast. Watching my every move silently, the guard looks away as I pour the remainder to the side of the entrance, only steps away from his position. Perhaps I should water the tree buffering the footpath from the road but I don’t.

‘You’ll need to check your bag before entering the gallery, ma’am,’ he calls out after me as I push past. At the base of the stairs, I remove my bag from around my neck.

‘Is this where I check my bag?’ I ask but am answered with a hand palm facing me fingers directing me to my left. A young lady, perched behind a bench looks up from her phone as I approach.

‘Is this where I check my bag?’

‘Yes, ma’am. That’ll be two dollars,’ she answers with all the enthusiasm of a teenager working the overnight shift at a McDonalds drive-through.

‘Okay. Just let me grab my wallet,’ I say pulling my bag back towards me before rifling through it.

‘Just a reminder that photography is forbidden in the gallery,’ she smiles and doesn’t smile simultaneously. ‘And don’t forget to visit the gift shop on our way out.’

I pay, collect my card and we head back to the foyer. A white marble staircase circles up and to the right, a black botanical-motif iron balustrade following it. In front of the staircase is a reception desk and the owner of the hand, who speaks as we attempt to climb the staircase.

‘Where you wanting to visit the gallery?’

‘Yes,’ I respond, thinking that it is rather stating the obvious.

‘Admission tickets can be purchased here.’

‘We’d like two tickets please,’ Steve interjects over my shoulder in an attempt to save the receptionist from getting his head bitten off.

‘Any concessions?’ he inquires.

‘Actually yes. I have a student concession card.’ Realising it is in my wallet which is now ensconced in the bag/coat check room, I consider my options. My dogged frugality wins out over my short fuse and I replay the procedure to save myself US$10. I’m unsure if it is worth it.

Some galleries and museums in America have a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ policy but not this place, at least not today. Traveling can be expensive. Obviously airfares and accommodation are the bulk of the expenses. In my lifetime though, airfares have become substantially more affordable. In the twenty years since I first began travelling, the price of my plane ticket has remain unchanged, regardless of inflation. The price of petrol, however, has increased by two-thirds. I sometimes wonder if it were more accessible, would more people travel. Perhaps they’re happy to stay at home, to stay in their knowable, predictable towns. I’m the kind of person who needs to save up for a holiday otherwise the stress of handing over a credit card every time outweighs the joy of the travel. Eating breakfast in and grabbing food from a market or grocery store also helps to ameliorate the ongoing shelling out of money. So yes, the saving of US$10 has a wider impact than its immediate perceivable action.

The collection at Neue Galerie includes decorative arts, sculpture and fine art pieces from various Austrian and German artists. Steve has brought me here for one reason only – to view the paintings of Gustav Klimt.

When Steve and I met through an online dating website, my profile name was Klimt. I had previously attempted online dating to greater and lesser success in the prior few years before meeting Steve and had learnt many tricks of the trade. One of which is not to give away any identifying information in your moniker or profile. Yes, you want to stand out from beachandsmiles76 and lovestolaugh71 but I always looked at a profile name as the first impression. I like to make a good first impression. One that draws curious and intelligent people in for a second look.

By choosing the name of one of my favourites artists, I felt I was sending a message about who I am as a person (artistic, slightly left of center) and also who I was looking to connect with (that might be harder to pinpoint in a few words). Needless to say, Steve heard my message loud and clear. I’m not sure if the entire time we’ve been together he’s been looking for some original Klimt artworks to direct me towards or if it was a fortuitous twist that he discovered the Neue Galerie here in NYC.

Either way, we find ourselves mingling with a couple of dozen other visitors on a glossy tiled floor, in a cool dark long room. Ten or so pieces drawings and paintings hang solemnly behind glass around the room. A few plinths in the middle display sculpture of marble and bronze but I barely glimpse at them. I step swiftly past numerous pencil studies to get to the main subject. There are too many people in my way. Can’t they go away and leave me alone with this woman I’ve traveled so far to see. I decide to do another lap of the room, this time pausing at the pencil studies, admiring the energy and fluidity of his line work. Various poses with body twisting first one way then another, her face barely even blocked in and yet it cannot be anyone else but her. I see a break and decide to take another run at it.

Adele Bloch-Bauer. She is unmistakable – dark hair piled high in folds upon her head, elongated neck swathed in a jewelled choker and her pianist-perfect fingers awkwardly held in front of her. A chaotic mosaic of triangles, squares, eyes and swirls envelope Adele, merging her dress with the background. Gold leaf dominates the oil paint, elevating the portrait to somewhere near religious icon status. I smile to myself. ‘Nice to finally meet you, Adele,’ I say under my breath.

Later, I descend to the bathroom below street level. One thing I quickly learnt as a tourist is that you take toilet stops when you can get them. Incongruously, it is here outside the ladies bathrooms that I find a life-size poster of Adele with a sign next to it encouraging selfies and the gallery’s social media platforms so I can tag myself in.

NYC, Sunday September 4th – part 2

Sunday on a long weekend in New York. We really should have known better. By now we’d attempted to eat in closed restaurants, braved over-crowded ferries and tourist-inundated attractions. I’m surprised we were surprised when we tried to visit Brooklyn Brewery at its home in Williamsburg, an uber hip part of Brooklyn . The day was warm and sunny and all the beautiful people were out and about. The queue could be seen long before the large spray painted sign which covers one side of the building. More young hipsters were joining the line quicker than it appeared to be moving.

‘How much do you really want to go there?’ I ask Steve.

‘Nowhere near enough,’ he answers.

‘Good.’ I scan the block. ‘How about that place?’ I point to a dark opening flanked by a large, drooping palm in a black concrete pot.

‘Is it a bar or a café?’

‘I don’t know and I don’t care.’ I respond, grabbing his hand and leading him on. Faux-industrial stools line up against a bench with the front roller door pushed high up and away. I’m drawn to the inner depths of the place with the promise of a dark, cool sanctuary. Passing the bar and its attendant young, gorgeous staff, I motion towards vacant seats beyond. We are nodded on our way.

Seated, I can now contemplate formulating a reason for being here.

‘I honestly didn’t imagine Brooklyn Brewery was going to be that busy. I mean I knew it would be busy but that is beyond just busy.’ Steve settles back further into the soft couches.

‘It is craft beer but on an American scale, a New York scale even. I remember being served a Brooklyn Brewery beer on a Delta flight a couple of years back,’ I continue. ‘When is craft beer no longer craft beer? When it is served on airplanes perhaps.’

‘Or when it’s bought out by one of the big boys like Asahi or AB InBev maybe,’ posits Steve.

‘So I could always see if they serve Brooklyn beers here?’

‘No thanks. Think I’ll see if I can get a coffee. An iced coffee even.’

‘Oh good thought. I’ll have an espresso martini. Let me sort it out.’ I approach the lithe, bronzed bartender who is killing time polishing glasses and place our order. Another couple wander into the café bar, pausing at the entrance as their eyes adjust from the bright sunshine outside. This time the bartender looks up and greetings are exchanged while the only immediate job she had – preparing our drink order – is abandoned as she scoots around the bar and throws her arms around the guy. There is little point getting upset about the delay in our order as we’ve nowhere desperate to be. Holidays are the delicate balance between making plans and having no plans. The rest of the working world has a schedule they need to keep but there is flexibility to our days. Yes, there are certain fixed appointments like flights but even those can be altered if we wished.

Steve’s spreadsheets have allocated activities for certain days, some even with duration or time dependant details. This research is part of the enjoyment of travel for him. He spends months roughing out itineraries, debating the positives and negatives of different routes and destinations. He emails me links to these spreadsheets so I can share in the joy and give feedback. Occasionally I will even open one up and glance at it. Rarely do I follow the embedded links to scenic attractions, accomodations and so on. It’s not that I dismiss all his effort or that I’m not interested in the trip. I am interested in the trip. The trip is the very thing that I am interested in. It is the months of research that I’m not enthralled by. I recognise how fortunate I am that my partner is a trip planner and how simple my travel is made by this quirk. I will not however download any of the apps, no matter how many invitations are sent my way. I’m sure they make his travel a more enjoyable, richer experience.

Equally, I will not try to persuade anyone else to take out an hour or two each afternoon for a little quiet time journal writing. My preference for a glass of wine and a small plate of something savoury to nibble on as I write in my hardcover journal with a quality medium-density pencil is a quirk of my own that I’m happy to embrace. I like to find a comfortable spot with some cushions on the floor or a corner spot on a couch. Natural light is preferred with a low side table for the aforementioned drink and snacks. Local radio is about the only addition of noise I can tolerate. Television is far too distracting to sustain any significant journal writing.

Regulation over-sized ice cube keeps Steve’s cold-drip, locally-roasted coffee chilled. He sips slowly, absentmindedly as he stares out the front window and into the bus depot across the road. My espresso martini has a bracing bitterness and thick crema that declares itself a product of quality, freshly extracted espresso. Content, I sit back and pull out my phone having already noted the wifi password displayed at the bar. Once connected, notifications start popping up left, right and centre. I delete a swathe of emails, upload a few photos of the day so far and check in with my daughters via Messenger. After longer than necessary social media browsing, I put my phone down to see Steve resting his eyes. My hand on his knee slightly startles him but he manages a smile anyway.

‘Hey babe, how about we grab an Uber back to the apartment and take the rest of the afternoon off?’

‘Sounds good. I’ll call the Uber.’ He extracts the phone from his pocket while I pack mine away. I pick up the cocktail glass and slurp the remaining contents, sticking my tongue out and swishing it side to side determined not to waste any.

2:57 PM

90 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA

MILES 6.42

TRIP TIME 00:28:51

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $33.07

Subtotal $33.07

Total $33.07

Driver – Olimjon

As we swing around Brooklyn in a loop and cross the Ed Koch Queensboro bridge, I am again reminded that Manhattan is an island to itself. Brooklyn may well be as part of New York City as is Manhattan, but they are culturally as well as physically two very different places. Green rather than the iconic yellow taxi cabs of Manhattan are just the beginning.

New York City has five boroughs or areas in total – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. More than just an administrative division, the boroughs each have distinctive personalities. The Bronx is witnessing a revitalisation of housing and infrastructure after years of neglect. Brooklyn is home to distinctive architecture as well as a plethora art/design outlets and technology start-ups. While Manhattan is the smallest in size, it is also the most densely populated. Queens is famously ethnically diverse with a range of eateries to match. Conversely, Staten Island very much embraces its suburban image. Though linked by bridges and tunnels, I wonder how often Manhattanites leave the comfort of their island. Perhaps they are more likely to travel interstate or internationally than visit any of the outer boroughs.

Three flights of stairs and a refreshing shower later, I pour myself a generous glass of Chablis add a few ice cubes and empty the bag of Buffalo blue cheese flavoured cheese curls into a bowl. I rescue my journal from the depths of the suitcase and drop a couple of plump pillows then myself on the floor by the edge of the bed. My back is propped against the bed while Steve is sprawled out on top of the floral bedcover. Thin cotton curtains do little to block the heat out. Slightly chilled air is pumped out of the vintage air conditioner in between the clunking and whirring. Somehow, Steve has managed to block out the din and drift off.

When I find myself sketching the columns on the building’s façade opposite, I decide to give up dissecting the details of the day and pop in my earbuds to listen to a podcast or three. This way I manage to disappear into a private space of my own for a couple of hours. Voices drift in and around my head. I follow threads of stories only to lose them again. At 6pm, I decide to wake Steve so that he’ll be able to sleep tonight.

Ahead of us is an evening of Micheladas and platters of mixed tacos at a pumping restaurant we’ve walked past multiple times since we’ve been here. A michelada is crisp Mexican beer with hot sauce and lime. This refreshing combo pairs perfectly with the Latin inspired cuisine on offer. We decline the signature dish – guacamole constructed table side with a variety of enhancements from pineapple and pomegrenate to papaya and mint. Not upsetting is also that we missed happy hour with its reduced price frozen margaritas and beef sliders.

It’s not long after 9pm and we find ourselves in bed. Outside the window, beyond the gently swaying curtains lights flash and cars toot their horns. I lay awake and watch the arcs of light creep across the ceiling. An Irish bar is two floors below but any noise it emits just blends in with the soundtrack of the streets – pedestrians laughing and shouting, the occasional dog barking, car horns and music escaping from cars idling at the traffic lights. It’s night and although the noise level is nowhere near its daytime extreme, New York City lives up to its reputation as the city that never sleeps. I’m not sure how people live their entire lives here. Perhaps they go slowly mad from the constant stimulation. I’m sure there are enclaves protected from sirens and construction in more wealthy sections of the city. West 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue is not one of them.