Wednesday, February 28, 2007


One of my company's offices lies on the other side of the Hudson River roughly parallel with the Manhattan financial district. It's clearly visible from many parts of New York, especially downtown, but actually lies in another state: New Jersey.

I occasionally have to go there for the odd meeting or two, and today was one of those days. There's a train that runs under the river from the World Trade Center, but I prefer the boat that departs from the pier at the end of Wall Street.

It was a beautifully clear day today, and as I whizzed across the river I gazed back on Manhattan and was struck with how beautiful New York can be when viewed from a distance. The classic vertical architecture set against the clear azure sky was simply stunning.

Things got better as I peered out of my meeting room window on the 28th floor of the destination building. The whole of downtown and midtown unfurled across the horizon, almost as far as the eye could see.

Next time I'll take my camera.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Live Forever

Food from American supermarkets is generally so well preserved and packaged that it lasts a Very Long Time.

It's actually pretty difficult to buy fresh produce that you can cook with; it's much easier to buy something pre-prepared or microwaveable instead. Once you do find basic ingredients, you often realise that it's cheaper to eat out in a low-key establishment.

This could explain why so few New York apartments have functional kitchens.

One supermarket chain is making a killing at the moment. Wholefoods is very successfully filling the gap, and sells beautifully fresh food alongside organic and luxury pre-packaged items. Every branch is always busy, so they're clearly on to something. This also seems to grant them licence to charge about twice the price of everyone else for the same items. Ah well.

It's also interesting to note that not everything you buy from a supermarket actually has a "use by" date. Maybe "food" here really does Live Forever.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Start Choppin'

One of my biggest fears about moving country was having to face the trauma of finding somewhere new to have my hair cut. I know this might not sound like a big deal, but I don't really enjoy the experience. I've been going to the same salon for about 5 years: it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

I've been in New York for three months now, but I was in London around New Year and made the trip to my usual hairdresser whilst I was there. This allowed me to defer the agony for a few more weeks, but recently I've started to resemble the Wild Man of Borneo so it was time to take the plunge.

There are a number of hack and slash places down near Wall Street, but I've grown to be a higher maintenance client than that in recent years. A little tickling of the web suggested that I try John Allan's, a small chain of men's salons that have been serving New Yorkers for some 19 years.

I wandered down there for my appointment this morning and found that I enjoyed the experience immensely. Their Full Service package offers slightly more than a haircut: I also had a hot towel treatment, a manicure (a personal first) and a shoeshine (another personal first). The staff were pleasant and the surroundings suitably "TriBeCa funky". I was also entitled to a drink from the bar. It seemed a little early for a beer, so I settled for an ice-tea instead.

The annual membership program might encourage me to go slightly more often, so as to make the economics viable. They also complimented me on my grey hair. Anywhere that can lie so convincingly has to be worth a second look.

Monday, February 19, 2007

At the Zoo

Today is Presidents' Day in the United States - a public holiday commemorating the birthdays of previous presidents. It started with Washington, then they added Lincoln as his birthday was pretty close to George's. Now it covers all former presidents in a bold swathe of inclusion.

It does however entitle me to a day off work, and we decided to spend it visiting the Bronx Zoo with some friends.

The last zoo I went to was Regents Park Zoo in London. I visited that one in February as well, and have come to the conclusion that they were both quiet for a reason. It was perishingly cold on both occasions; and most exotic animals are sensible enough to stay inside in the warm and dry.

The Bronx Zoo is an impressive place. It occupies a sizeable area north of Manhattan and has some 4,000 animals in residence. We certainly didn't cover all the exhibits, but did enjoy seeing giraffes, frogs, snakes, buffalo and all manner of strange birds. There were also some rather foolhardy tigers flopping around in the snow; I guess they really are as tough as they look.

I think we'll be back when it's warmer and the animals are more likely to be outside. It certainly felt like a happier place that the abject misery that is London Zoo.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Slip Slidin' Away

The weather has been a little more wintery in NYC this week. This makes a change from just having the biting cold to contend with.

On Tuesday there was an ice-storm warning in effect for New York. I've never experienced an ice-storm, and only have a vague understanding of the phenomenon from the Ang Lee movie of the same name. A little Internet research turned up the most amazing pictures. Luckily for us the storm never came.

But we did receive a reasonable snow fall instead, resulting in about 6-8 inches covering Manhattan.

In London this would have been enough to cripple the city for days on end, but in New York it hardly made any difference. Within a matter of hours the snow-ploughs had cleared the major streets, and busy little bees had cleared walkways along the pavements. Salt was deployed to make things a little easier to manage, and the snow was piled up at the sides of the road. People went about their business pretty much as per normal.

Walking in the snow was a little tricky. The temperature dropped back down to the customary -8C and patches of ice lurked in the shadows. I learned pretty quickly to avoid manhole covers and subway grates. The piles of snow at the kerbside were a little tough to negotiate, too, as no-one had the foresight to leave gaps for the pedestrians to cross the road.

The snow made New York look really pretty for a short while, but the pollution and dirt soon turned the scene into a dull grey-brown mess.

I'll tell you one thing: New York in the snow is no place for an Englishman's leather shoe.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ch-ch-check it Out

American retail banks remain in the Dark Ages.

To move money from one institution to another requires you either to pay a ridiculous "wire transfer" fee both to send and receive the funds; or you can write a cheque.

To pay a utility bill, you have to write a cheque.

To pay your rent, you have to write a cheque.

To pay a cheque into your account requires you to endorse it on the back - because you can trivially sign over your cheque to someone else.

It amazes me that the concept of electronic transfer of funds is nearly non-existent over here. In fact, when you use your online bank account to pay a bill, quite often all they do is mail the recipient a cheque! Instead of investing in technology to provide this simple (and very useful) facility, they've invested in technology that allows them to scan every single cheque that is written and deposited, so that it can be displayed "electronically" via your online bank account - an almost entirely useless feature.

Oh, and they insist of calling them "checks".

America doesn't run on Dunkin', it runs on bureaucracy.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Red, Red Wine

We went to a wine tasting tonight. This was no ordinary wine tasting, mind you. This was a pinot noir special held in the upstairs room of a fancy TriBeCa restaurant called the Tribeca Grill.

We walked in to a room full of New Yorkers wandering around sniffing and slurping enthusiastically, there was a mountain of cheese in the middle, and 25 wines to taste.

Two regions of California, Oregon, Burgundy and "The Rest of the World" were represented by separate tables, and behind each was a designated pourer. We sidled in at the end of one of the tables and set to work.

25 wines in under an hour is a reasonable task, but we did our best. There wasn't much of a system to each table, and we had to muscle in with the rest of the throng to make sure we were represented, but we did well and sampled all of the wines on offer.

Not surprisingly the Burgundies came out on top, closely followed by the Oregonians. The rest came stumbling quite far behind in a bit of a rabble. Oddly, the Burgundy table was by far the least densely populated with slurpers.

I guess the New World, New World rules.