New York is a nice city, unless you experience it during one of the more severe frost periods of this century. Average day temperature was -6, at night it was -15 degrees Celsius. Earlier I had imagined leisurely walking from my hotel through Central Park to the archive I worked at each day. It now became an slippery and icy adventure!
During my stay I was dying for a little heat and almost cooking from an overdose of it at the same time: my hotel had a hard to regulate system of 19th century steam heating which make me feel like I slept in a whistling tea kettle. A room so small that I had to sit in the windy lobby. Takeaway for you? Don’t visit New York when it is freezing cold!
Since internet access at the hotel was poor I took my resort to the New York Public Library. It seemed like a museum with its many decorated spaces and tourists. Sadly it hardly contained books! In general books were hard to find in New York. Same with Washington by the way. Internet shopping really made headway here!
But it wasn’t all bad ; ). With the risk of coming across as diehard shopper (which I am not, which people that know me can confirm): there are great sales mid February! After checking out all the major department stores, I finally settled on Macy’s as the most attractive, contents and price wise. Discounts of 80 percent of the original sales price were no exception! Great thin merino CK-sweaters for only 25 dollars!
Hard to understand and potentially misleading was the whole systems of sales tax (not mentioned on items), coupons and similar discounts. ‘Buy a womens breast cancer button for 1 dollar’, said Macy’s sales personnel. It gave me an additional 25 percent discount. Remarkable was the sometimes old age of personnel. For my Dutch eyes it is strange to receive help from people well into their sixties or seventies, walking around with sticks or limping.
Except for some flagship stores, city shops looked bad in the US. The only attractive shops I saw with ok design were restaurants like Chipotle and Starbucks. Known chains like MacDonalds and Burgerking looked outright horrible, and seemed intended for feeding the poor and homeless. Cheap diners were the most interesting places. They offered nice and strange people and had a remarkably wide and simple offering of hash browns, sandwiches and omelettes etc.
Transport had an interesting retro quality. JFK looked like it was stuck in the Reagan era. Old buildings and signage, and one hour waiting to get through passport control! I had no idea how well accessible and clean Schiphol was (well, after the current renovation is finished. . .). The saddest place of all was Pen-station. Once a classic hall station, in the 1960s torn down and replaced by a skyscraper. The station is now in the basement, a dazzling maze of hallways and staircases leading to scarily small platforms for train and metro.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect, and at the same time a testament to the importance of New York in popular culture, was that everything that I saw, looked so familiar. The Washington and New York that I saw, matched the imagery and mannerisms I encountered in American media productions. The men opening the door in a Washington restaurant looked eerily like the ones in House of Cards. The american door man doing a dance in front of an hotel entrance door reminded me of Eddie Murphy.