LETTER FROM NEW YORK

In 1961, over half a century ago, my parents accompanied me as a baby by ocean liner across the Atlantic to New York. For two years we lived in Manhattan while my father worked for a Wall Street investment bank. Perhaps in the hope that I would make money I was baptized in the immensely wealthy Trinity Church on Broadway at Wall Street. At least I learned to walk in Central Park. During our homeward journey to Southampton on the legendary Queen Elizabeth I won the ship’s Best Dressed Baby competition as the Roman sea-god Neptune. The “Lizzie” (as the ship was affectionately known to Cunarders) represented all the glamour of pre-jet flight travel by sea.

 

 

I missed my flight to New York as I neglected to secure a US visa-wavier or ESTA in time. “Sorry, Sir, no form, no flight”, Heathrow security informed me. Britons are allowed to stay in the US for 90 days without a visa if they pay $14.00 beforehand for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Usually on-line clearance takes five minutes, but the US Customs and Border Protection website had crashed and I was unable to process my application. After hours of swearing and applying on my laptop, I was advised by British Airways staff to call it a day. Next day, fortunately, I was at last at JFK and on my way to see friends in Brooklyn.

 

 

A walk across Brooklyn Bridge into Lower Manhattan offers a visual education in the grand style. Mist was blowing in drifts off the East River and already I could feel the intoxication of New York pre-Christmas. At Grand Central station the Salvation Army were belting out carols beneath a billboard ‘IS YOUR TESTOSTERONE DECREASING? while Trinity Church was strung with coloured lights.

 

 

My baptism in the financial district church in December 1961 was officiated by the Rev. Bernard C. Newman, a Harvard-educated  Episcopalian who did much to help the Lower East Side poor (the church virtually owned the Lower East Side) as well as Manhattan bankers like my father.

 

 

The church happens to be the resting place of Alexander Hamilton, hero of the Broadway hip-hop extravaganza Hamilton. In the 1780s, Hamilton had written two Federalist essays about impeachment; as Hamilton’s biographer Ron Chernow noted recently in the Washington Post, he would “certainly have endorsed” the current inquiry into Donald Trump.

 

 

After a day’s work at Manufacturers Hanover Trust (“Mani Hani”), my father liked to stop off for cuts of salmon at Fulton Fish Market before the A train took him to Central Park South, where we lived at 222 Gainsborough Studios.

 

 

Built in 1908, the apartment building stands across 7th Avenue from the gilded fantasia that is now Trump Parc East. A bust of the 18th century Suffolk artist Thomas Gainsborough still inhabits the alcove above the entry doors. On the top floor lived the British-born sculptor Bryant Baker, whose gigantic 1930 statue of an Old West Pioneer Woman is a landmark in Oklahoma.

 

 

The Irish doorman, Joseph Shovelin (“like shoveling snow but without the g”), offered to show me round after I mentioned my 90-year-old mother back home in London. (“For Mom, always”.) The views over Central Park with the trees white under frost were Christmas-card picturesque. “The skyline’s changed a little since you was a baby, Sir. But, hey!, Xmas is coming and the geese are getting fat”, Mr Shovelin patiently showed me out. On the sidewalk, a woman was putting her poodle in a cab amid the east-bound traffic.

 

Afterwards I found myself under the elevated subway on Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island where William Friedkin had filmed the car chase sequence in The French Connection. DON’T WALK said a flashing sign, but everyone jay-walks in this part of Brooklyn-on-Sea.

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