From New York to Paris

I'm just back from a week in Manhattan. I stayed in a small hotel in Chelsea, down near 17th street, near sixth avenue. My room was long and narrow, perhaps no more than a few metres in width and with high ceilings. Once my meeting was over, I spent the weekend wandering the streets of Manhattan, visiting the many chelsea art galleries, attempting random walks. Manhattan now seems much less full of strange and unusual people than it did when I was first there, back in 1992; the city has changed a lot.

Each morning I found myself at the Hollywood Diner (open 24 hours!) where I could order pancakes and watch New Yorkers hurry to work along the pavement (I mean sidewalk) outside. This was the nearest cafe to my hotel, and I reflected on the differences between that cafe and the nearest cafe to my apartment in Paris, the "Bouquet d'Alesia" where I have eaten many an "entrecote gratin daphinoise" (but perhaps not at 9AM in the morning). Certainly the menus in Alesia were not nearly as extensive as proposed by the Hollywood Diner - there must have been hundreds of items to choose from, all of which I suppose were prepared at the same lightning-fast speed with with my pancakes materialised each morning. Could they really make all this stuff?

I spent a morning wandering around Chelsea, and attempted to visit the galleries - but there were hundreds of them, and I gave up somewhere in the middle of the afternoon after perhaps having been through only three or four streets. The galleries are very densely packed down there, one door after another. Bizzarely enough, the galleries alternate with garages and auto repair shops, so it's not uncommon to leave one exhibition space only to enter another and think "My gosh, this installation looks exactly like a partly disassembled Toyota! And all that machine oil on the floor is so realistic! And those men in overalls!" only to realise that in fact, it really is a garage, rather than just looking like one.

About the best thing I saw the galleries of Chelsea were some new photographs by Andreas Gursky (a snip at around $300,000 each), amongst them one of some technicians in the Superkamiokande mine in Japan. One sees serried ranks of photomultiplier tubes up to the ceiling, a million eyes. In the middle distance technicians are paddling across the inky black surface of the super-pure heavy water in a canoe. Scale and proportion are hard to grasp - surely this is image has been altered in some way? But no, this is actually reality...

Amongst other things I did in Manhattan was to make a visit to the Strand bookstore - but more on that in the next few days I hope...