Flying into the place is spectacular: you get a real sense of the island nature of the city, we seemed to come in over Canada then fly across the city from inland. the sea was bright blue and you could look down onto beaches fringing the land. It was far more beautiful than I would have expected, and even though we didn't see Manhattan clearly I got a glimpse of the Brooklyn bridge, or of a copy that some millionaire had built for fun: probably the Trumplin bridge.
Then you hit the airport and it looks just like every other airport in every other city in every country in the world, and all around it like every other city airport zone: warehouses, logistics companies, endless car parks, half hearted landscaping and scrub land that they can't work out what to do with. That was disappointing.
A black kid, early 20s in a hoodie and hip hop shorts started chatting to me and we went to the metro together, he paid my ticket randomly, then we shook hands and parted. He wanted to know about Russia, but didn't seem to have any context in which to place it. I would have asked him if he knew what it was, for when I said it was cold he seemed surprised. But he was kind and helpful and I didn't feel like humiliating him for lack of geographical awareness. Why should he know anything about Russia?
The subway is shitty, even dirtier and shabbier than London's and nothing on Moscow's marbled magnificence. Trains come randomly and rarely and it is not all that clear where they are going. But when I came out finally, at Penn station, it was there: New York, that Woody Allen, Scorsese world of concrete canyons and huddled masses all carrying paper coffee cups.
Then I bought a plug adapter off a Korean guy in a trash store, of which there are millions here. He wanted to know where I was from and then, after I told him, he took to calling me Mr. England. He asked if I could guess where a handsome man like he had come from, and I recalled the street sign saying Korea street, and the big Korean flag by the door and said : "Korea?" He was mightily impressed by this and took to shaking my hand and laughing in wide eyed wonder at my perspicuity. It means nothing, but it is nice.
The hotel $150 doesn't include breakfast.
I just bought a cappuccino in Dunkin Donuts and couldn't understand anything the Asian lady was saying. Luckily she could just about understand me and so we found ourselves in an impromptu English lesson, me doing pronunciation, her repeating and smiling at me as she tries to connect words like “cappuccino, medium”, and “go”, to the complex reality of her work. If I managed dunkin donuts I would teach em this basic shit, this has to be 90 percent of what they ever have to understand.
The tipping gets confusing too, do we tip in Subway sandwich shops, in dunkin, how is this shit supposed to work, and can't we just pay them a decent wage so that tips matter less.
Went out this morning at about 6am, walked a little, smoked, watched the morning sun rising amidst the towers. It was warm and bright and full of people hurrying to various places, people of all races and sizes and shapes.
The streets are full of trash bags, huge mountain ranges of black, plastic sacks, I assume someone comes along and carts em off, but the way they stand on the sidewalks puts me in mind of the winter of discontent stuff.
The hotel door, with its electronic card key fucks up, suddenly the Latinos come out as the pretty people at reception reach the limits of their competence. First an attractive 30 year old woman with that all purpose Latino accent arrives, she's lovely and full of happy smiles. When she fails, she calls down to the desk to ask Hector to come and save us. Apparently Hector is not the first of the gang with a gun in his hand and the first to do time and the first of the gang to die. Hector is a bald, mid 20s engineer, which means he can replace batteries in the electronic lock. when he has done that they none of them can figure out who took my key card and so off Hector meanders to figure it out. This is Russian level incompetence and it is reassuring to find it here too.
I guess it's just a matter of paying such low wages that you can't get people with any real training or education to fix the locks in your international hotel chain. The difference here is that everyone is very polite and nice about it all.
It's that English thing, whereby the surface of life is all really pleasant, there may well be a sordid dark Lynchian underbelly, but you'd have to pry to find it, and why would you?