Piano Lady

The hairs were standing up on the back of my neck as security directed us around the perimeter of a building site.

The sun was bright and hot, and there wasn’t a cloud in the skyscraper-fringed sky. Yesterday had borrowed rain from today, so it was dry, and the Freedom Tower reflected the light and made it hard to look at it too closely.

It was equally tough to look too closely at the 9/11 memorial: two vast black squares sunk into the ground, with water cascading down to the bottom. And in the centre of each basin, another black well that the water disappeared into, the bottom far out of sight. It was immense, it was appropriate, it was dignified, but if you stopped to look at it too long, it was also horrifying. L told me about how the fumes hung around the city for days afterwards, even as far up as his apartment. For those of us who saw it only on TV, it was a shocking demonstration of the scale of the tragedy.

Fringing the waterfalls were bronze plates with the names of the victims. The south pool felt cool to the touch. The north felt warm. A few white roses had been left on the plates. I took a few photos, not so much to remember the place (how could I forget?) but to give myself a break from thinking about it too much. I thought about photographers in disaster areas who put the camera between themselves and the action.

From the busy but respectful crowds of the memorial, to nearby Battery Park, to pay my respects to Lady Liberty out where the Hudson meets the East River, ‘the nicest thing the French have done for us,’ says L before adding, ‘shame they don’t help with the upkeep.’ The French and American Revolutions happened at about the same time, for roughly the same reasons, and on the same ideals, and yet they have turned out two profoundly different countries.

By the time we hit South Terminal, we were ready to sit in the shade and top up with an iced tea to steel ourselves for the subway uptown to Macy’s on 7th Avenue and back to the apartment for the rest of last night’s dinner. Warmed through in the oven, it survived the process of being taken out of the original restaurant, carried across town, refrigerated and reheated with a style that more complicated meals would struggle to achieve.

L, sensitive to such things, took a look at my feet as we ate on the terrace. ‘When did you last have a pedicure?’

I had to admit I had never ever had a pedicure, and so L made a call and booked me in to see Sue. Sue attends to the best kept feet in Manhattan, but now she was confronted with a challenge. Donning rubber gloves and a mask (citing ‘allergies’ though I wouldn’t have blamed her if the mere state of my feet was reason enough for reaching for industrial standards of skin protection) she clipped, scrubbed, moisturised, filed and buffed my feet into, well, feet. Rodin was once asked how he made such amazing sculptures. ‘I take a block of marble and chip away everything that isn’t an elephant.’ Obviously this sounded better in French, but the same principle holds true for my feet. At one point, as she wrapped my left foot in clingfilm, she asked ‘Are you in a hurry?’ The massage itself was nice enough for me to have cancelled any plans, even if I had been. And at the end of the process and saw two pink, soft, happy-looking feet (and not a couple of elephants) I knew this had been a good call. Even if Sue did insist on showing me all the dead skin she’d shaved off my soles in the preceding hour.

That evening, I took my body balanced on two new feet to the TriBeCa Comedy Lounge, the one and only gig I’m doing here in NYC. It’s an interesting venue, gets a decent audience, though it maybe took a while for them to get warmed up. I got into my set, realised there were a few too many cultural references than were helpful, but to my very good fortune, a lady dressed as a piano was sitting in the front row. I can’t remember what was said, but it was funny and saved me from a creaky gig.

Dinner afterwards at Petite Abeille, a Belgian cafe/bistro nearby on Broadway. I had a side salad and a starter, determined not to let America undo the last two years in the gym too quickly. Four enormous shrimp, in a chorizo sauce. Small but devastating, and a local beer brewed Belgian-style especially for the place had me nearly nodding off in the cab back to 30th.



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