Manners and the City

>>Our last day in NYC and here’s what we’ve learnt: the rude, aggressive, always-in-a –hurry, always-ready–with-a-sarcastic-riposte New Yorker is dead. Put it down to the economic downturn, the setback in foreign regard, the rise of other powers like China and to a certain extent India — or just a mellowing of the monster -- but in his place has entered a mild-mannered, soft spoken and gentle being, one who wants to sit back and watch the grass grow. At cafes and multiplex queues people ask each other, “Weren’t you in front of me?” before waiving the other person ahead.

Strangers hold doors for each other, bartenders slip customers extra wine, and retail staff go out of their way to be helpful. Political correctness has given way to political inclusiveness and the air is rent with shy smiles and “You take care!” and “No worries mate, I got it”.

Nowhere is this epic transformation more apparent than in the legendary sardonic, sharp tongued and cynical New York taxi driver. There was a time when stepping into a New York yellow cab was an act of bravery, one in which you handed over your self esteem, survival instincts and self respect to the moods and whims of the demon behind the wheel once you shut the door behind you. Not so any more. The New York taxi driver is now a cuddly creature. The last one we encountered — a large burly man with a long red beard was kind and considerate even stepping out to help with the bags. All this makes for a very seductive package indeed.

The ebb and swirl of the world’s capital city with a Capital C without its customary bite! The Big Apple without its worm! We shall be back!

The bar at Balthazar
>>Lunch at Balthazar, Robert De Niro’s famed bistro-like eatery is in Manhattan between Crosby and Broadway. We recall being here once before. It was the week of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai and we happened to be in NYC on work and had found ourselves with an hour to spare on Thanksgiving. Booking ourselves a table at Balthazar, we thought nothing of lunching there on our own. After all, a true traveller is never alone: the city you are getting to know is your most alluring companion.

Balthazar in New York

But we recall how our fellow diners would have nothing of it. It offended their Thanksgiving ethos to see one (even a foreigner) lunching alone. Various tables extended invitations to us to join their celebrations. We ended up complying and had a jolly good time. This time too, in memory of past exuberance we wait for our date deliberately alone at the bar sipping Chablis. From that vantage point we spot New Yorkers and a whole lot of well–heeled tourists partake in that legendary New York ritual: the smart expense account Manhattan lunch. Indeed, it is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

The view from the Upper East Side
>>Dinner with Marie Brenner, Vanity Fair’s celebrated editor at large and one of its most revered writers, since the early ’80s, when the magazine was re-launched by her friend Tina Brown. Brenner, an old friend and a consummate Indophile, has organised a pre-dinner drink at her Upper East Side home before we proceed to a smart al fresco neighbourhood eatery. We sit in her garden sipping a crisp Chardonnay catching up on Mumbai-Delhi-New York news. As is her wont she is more up to date in what’s happening in our backyard than even we are. Our dinner companions are two beautiful and young students with stars in their eyes. The summer air is imbued with beauty, freshness and summer breeze. We speak of the Indian elections and the lack of real choices the electorate has. “Between a corrupt, scam-driven ruling party and a communal opposition what choice do we have?” we say as our fellow diners ponder India’s tough choices from distant shores.

To ‘Frisco with flowers
>>The authentic traveller is never alone. The city is her constant date. And in this spirit we leave New York. Onward and upward to our old and first love: San Francisco. With flowers in our hair. 

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