I can remember exactly the moment I first saw the news about the attack on New York. I was home in Cape Town, South Africa. I switched on theTV absent-mindedly. Those horrific images hit me like a punch in the gut. I had just returned from a trip to New York, my second visit but the first time I’d spent any real time there. I stayed in downtown Manhattan, not far from the Twin Towers.
My first visit was when I was 21 and it terrified me. I arrived with my then husband from London. We’d brought our bicycles with us, intending to ride down to Key West, and we got off the plane, and foolishly decided to ride into Manhattan. Got lost and ended up in a really dodgy area after dark. I was so naïve it didn’t bother me. What did I know about New York, anyway? Nada. We stopped to get an ice cream.
The vendor said what are you doing here, you two? Riding into Manhattan, we said. His reply? “Get out of here. Now! And take the subway.” Gulp. So we took the subway. Covered in the graffiti of angry youths. Come midnight I was sitting on the sidewalk in Times Square bawling my eyes out, trying to fend of drug pushers, terrified out of my wits.
Some wonderful young man rescued us and took us to his apartment; fed us, gave us a place to sleep. We left the next day and I thought I never wanted to see that awful city again. But about 24 years later I was back. Much less naïve and with much more sophisticated tastes. And I fell in love with that great city. I loved the energy, the aura of romance, the fabulous architecture. The men, oh yes, the men! What is it about them? Smart, sassy, nice to look at.
People had often said how aggressive everybody was in New York but I didn’t find it so at all. In fact I thought people were more at ease with themselves and their lives and much less aggressive than here in South Africa. I certainly felt safer there than I do here, and I took that subway late at night, walked around by myself. Never felt even vaguely threatened once.
I spent a lot of time in Central Park, lustfully contemplating the apartments that look down on it, dreaming of living there one day. Just like Yoko Ono. Have to really make it big to be able to do that. Actually, I’d settle for one of those gorgeous studio apartments in downtown Manhattan, Tribeca for example. They’re amazing, they have huge windows and sometimes the entire front façade of the building is a cast-iron mold. I also had tea at the Ritz, and dreamed of spending a weekend there.
Oh, New York is a place you can dream, but it’s also a place you can come alive. I did that, and came home pretty reluctantly. Some people leave their heart in Paris. I left mine in New York. So that day I turned on the news and saw the rape of my beautiful city, it broke my heart. It still does, every time I think about it.