Saturday, November 12, 2011

On Not Being Fiona

As for New York City, it is a place apart. There is not its match in any other country in the world. Pearl S Buck

There's something about a place, any place, when you are about to leave it.

Well, for me, anyway.

The place, usually a city, appears to magically take on its best features, its quintessential being. And I wonder, "why am I leaving?" This is especially so when the city is New York.

It happens to me every time I go from one place to another. Even if I'm not going for long, I suddenly appreciate fully where I am, and feel a sense of loss even before losing.

And it happened again, so predictably, this evening.

I was meeting my friend Babs at David Burke's "Fishtail" restaurant on 62nd. "Sixty Second between Park and Lex, see you there," Babs had told me just over twenty four hours ago. And so at 5:45pm precise I set off. No bus, so I caught a cab.

While the cab navigated the traffic on Park Avenue, I stared out the window as if seeing New York for the first time. The up-market, old-money Upper East Side apartments with their gloved gray-uniformed doormen. Bell-hops. Straight out of a sixties Hitchcock. The yellow cabs. The rush and buzz that is New York.

Wandering into "Fishtail" I saw Babs waiting at the bar. "There's my friend," I explained to the rather obsequious greeter who was querying whether or not I had a reservation. Without waiting for his permission I started toward Babs, but my path was blocked by a young waitress, who I was later to learn, was from New Jersey.

Yeah, so New Jersey has an image problem. I know that, but I was not prepared for what happened next.

Suddenly her hair was on fire. She had long free-flowing brown hair and it had been ignited by one of the many obligatory candles - except in this case they were square not round - it is de rigueur in Manhattan to be as different as possible. "If we are going to have candles, darhling, let them be square," I could imagine the Fishtail's interior decorator demanding.

The air smelt of singed hair, and while most diners were oblivious, Mr Obsequious-Greeter was hot on the waitress's tail. Not worrying about her well-being, more concerned with the restaurant's ambience, he ushered the singed girl away.

United Babs and I then found our table, perused the menu, ordered cocktails, and relaxed after out hard working-week.

We were talking about lipsticks (yes, really) when suddenly the conversation turned upon the topic of a "Fiona". "Who's called Fiona? So Australian," I was rattling on. "Are there Fionas in America?"

"I hope not," said Babs.

The meal was delightful. The wine was from New Zealand. We talked of work, of men, of relatives, of OZ. And then along came Miss-Singed-Hair.

"Where are you from?" she demanded, New York style. We looked at each other. "Ur, we are from, hey where are we from?" I asked Babs, not quite understanding what the singed waitress was asking.

"You mean because of our accents?" asked Babs.

But no. The waitress explained she meant were we just come from work, the theater, shopping? "From work," we told her.

Then Ms Singed had something else to say.

"I wish I had an accent!" "You do," we replied in unison with another waitress who had just joined us. "Where are you from?"

Miss Wishing-I-Had-an-Accent looked downcast and muttered sub-audibly, "New Jersey".

Being kind folk we pretended we hadn't heard her and the conversation moved on.

"Are you married?" Wishing-I-Had-an-Accent asked us. Out of the blue.

We both looked confused. Were we? Well yes. But sort of, not what one thinks of, understands as, "married".

"Well yes," said Babs uncertainly.

"Maybe you are married to each other?" asked Ms Wishing-I-Had-an-Accent.

We were stunned. Why would she think this? We explained that we were not and had no desire to be.

"It's just that a lot of people who come here, are," Ms Wishing-I-Had-an-Accent explained.

I was starting to think she really WAS from New Jersey when Babs, ever the social facilitator asked about her hair and the conversation drifted away onto more mundane matters.

Our Kate-Babs dinner then resumed, and after an hour or so during which we had to keep explaining to the wine waiter that no, we did NOT drink Chardonnay, we left and caught our cabs.

The night was clear. The streets were busy. It was neither too hot, or too cold.

It was just right.

It was, New York.

I waited for the elevator to my apartment in a New York state of mind.

As I said, there's something about a place, any place, when you are about to leave it.


Anonymous said...

The "New York State of Mind", Mel Torme at his best. Now there was a real New Yorker. Don't hear him much any more, but what a performer. Never lived there; could never have afforded to live there in any style to which I've become accustomed, but "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!" Right?

Anonymous said...

Funny 'bout accents. Visited an Australian a couple of weeks ago. She said, "You've got a weird accent!" How's your accent Kate? People ask you if you're from Brooklyn?

Post a Comment