We arrived back on Thursday morning from a long-overdue trip to New York City, our first in 18 years: a combination of mortgage payments and young children have kept us from returning until now. Now that the children are teenagers, it was time to introduce them to the greatest city in the world.
It's an indication of how much Britain - and especially its cities - has changed in the intervening years that Manhattan didn't seem nearly as strange as it did on our first encounter in the late '80s. Even the book stores now look much the same. Last time, we were struck by the in-your-face bargain-basement approach even in 'good' stores like Barnes and Noble, but this time it was just like being in Waterstone's.
We'd promised ourselves to bring back at least one book each - especially H., who is a US politics nut and had hoped to find something that wasn't yet available here. She liked the look of Robert Dallek's new 'double biography' of Nixon and Kissinger, but in the end there didn't seem much point hauling it back across the Atlantic, when Amazon could ship it for little extra cost in a few days. Online shopping has certainly made the world a smaller place. As for me, the only thing I brought back, apart from a few exhibition brochures, was the latest issue of Dissent, which I found in the Columbus Circle branch of Borders: again, though, I could have waited a couple of weeks until it was on the shelves of Borders here.
As for reading while travelling: before going I had ordered Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about Robert Moses, the architect and planner of much of modern NYC (prompted by reading Marshall Berman's All That is Solid Melts into Air recently, in which he describes Moses' role in the destruction of his home neighbourhood in the Bronx). But the tome turned out to be far too weighty for the handluggage, so it will have to wait for another time. Instead, I packed Ann Douglas' Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s, which I picked up for 95p in a secondhand store some time ago: it's a fascinating if rather exhausting account of New York in the Jazz Age. Since returning home, I've started on Russell Shorto's compelling account of how New Amsterdam became New York: The Island at the Centre of the World. While we there, the Rough Guide was, as always, indispensable, but Richard Alleman's New York: The Movie Lover's Guide also helped us (stereotypical tourists that we are) to find the Friends apartment house and the NYPD Blue station house (we did it for the children, you understand).
It was our first visit since 9/11. We didn't deliberately set out to visit Ground Zero, but found ourselves in the vicinity as we walked back up Broadway from Battery Park. The site is a noisy, gaping hole in the heart of lower Manhattan, but on this glorious spring day it was noticeable how the dynamic, pulsing life of New York goes on around it. Small acts of remembrance are everywhere, though: from the names of lost colleagues etched on to the side of fire trucks (each windscreen of which bore the legend 'We Support Our Troops'), to the bright yellow ribbons adorning the fences of downtown churches on this Memorial Day weekend.
God Bless America: I miss you already.