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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 70: 3 December

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysThere's an air of heightened excitement as we approach New York, so different from the easy-going almost sleepy atmosphere on the train as we pulled out of L.A.

Across the Harlem River and into Manhattan rolling slowly above the derelict urban landscape described so enthusiastically by Tom Wolfe in the book I have by my side at the moment, Bonfire Of The Vanities. Around 132nd Street the city looks more like Cairo. Rubbish is strewn everywhere, smashed cars and discarded beds are scattered over plots of land empty save for sheets of corrugated iron and people living beneath them. As if this might have been just a momentary waking nightmare, an aberration not to be confused with the real thing, we are swept away into the darkness of Park Avenue Tunnel.

Passengers begin to move to the doors. The garrulous openness of the Hudson River ride has been replaced by an edgy silence, as if everyone is mentally preparing themselves for the demands of this ruthless and impatient city. As in Chicago and Los Angeles, the railway approach to New York is not one to lift the spirits. We disembark in subterranean gloom and trudge along the platform sustained only by an act of faith that New York really is up there above us, and that we haven't all died.

The shabby tunnels lead to what could quite easily be Heaven and Hell combined - the great concourse of Grand Central Terminal. The massive celestial ceiling, pinpricked with gold-leaved constellations, shelters two sorts of people - those who are going somewhere and those who are not. In the latter, more interesting category, are flute players, those fighting off imaginary aerial assailants, those conducting urgent conversations with themselves, and those sitting with vacant eyes, staring down at the ground, unable to take life in New York any other way.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 70
  • Date: 3 December
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: New York - New York
  • Book page no: 234

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