New York 2011: Tennis, Culture and Intensity

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New York



It’s always a thrill for me to visit New York.  I lived there for 7 years in two slices of two and five years.  Although I did not enjoy the work I was doing, I loved being in the city.  Its cultural facilities are fantastic, attracting people from all over the world.  It is intense, full of people rushing about in the streets under the shadow of skyscrapers, traveling in cars or on the subway seemingly with a purpose.  The variety of people is stunning:  their size, shape, color, dress, language, race, etc.  And they are close up, jostling to pass on the street or get in and out of the subway.  It’s a city that makes me feel that anything and everything is possible. This visit had the added spice created by Hurricane Irene.  Gotham was empty for 24 hours.  No one in the streets, no cars and no public transport.   TV coverage of the storm was continuous, which provided valuable information but also generated tension.  Many people living in the southern tip of Manhattan were asked to evacuate.  The storm started on Saturday afternoon and passed by Sunday morning.  Against the Mayor’s advice, people emerged from their apartments on Sunday morning, bored and suffering from cabin fever.  I joined hundreds walking through Central Park where some trees and branches had fallen and those standing were still swaying with the wind.  In the end, Manhattan was spared.  The hurricane was downgraded from a very dangerous category 3 to a tropical storm by the time it reached the island.  Central Park got 6” of rain on Saturday night, a normal day’s monsoon downpour in Darjeeling.I had the pleasure to meet all my remaining friends in the New York area, usually at a meal.  For one of these meetings, I traveled by train along the Hudson River to Rhinecliff, passing WestPoint and many riverside mansions built by the Astors and Roosevelts, the plutocrats of another era.  We lunched at a roadside café in a building owned by my friend and wandered around his farm with many barns and animals–a different lifestyle than in Manhattan for sure.   True to expectations, Amtrak was late in both directions.On the way back, I transferred with some difficulty in the confusion of Penn Station to a Long Island Railroad train that took me to Forest Hills in Queens.   I joined friends at the West Side Tennis Club where the US Open Tennis tournament was held for a long time.  We dined on the club’s verandah overlooking the grass courts where I had seen Manuel Santana win the championship.   The club had switched surfaces to clay courts a few years later and that stadium, where I saw Guillermo Vilas thrash Jimmy Connors in the final, was just a hundred yards away.

I had intended to visit the Met and Moma on Saturday and see a play at Lincoln Center on Sunday, but all venues were closed because of Irene.  But I was not totally deprived of culture because, before the storm, I attended an exhibit of Elliot Erwin’s photographs at the International Center for Photography and saw “Freud’s Last Session”, an excellent production at a small theater.  In it, Freud debated his atheism with an academic who was a religious zealot.  Sounds serious, but it was well peppered with humor.   Needless to say, I agree with Freud.

By Monday morning, New York was functioning more or less normally.  I was able to get to the US Open Tennis tournament facility on opening day by subway without difficulty.    I prefer the first few days of these tournaments because new good players appear every year, but don’t make it to the last few rounds, which tend to have the same top players.  Also, since all the outer courts are in use, spectators can come up close to the action rather than far away and way up in the stadia.   Being so close gives me a chance to study players’ strokes and learn new ones.   Yes, I am still working on improving my game.   Six hours a day for two days of watching tennis was all I could take.  In that time, I flitted from court to court watching a set each of interesting matches.   Notable among them was Cilic easily handling Harrison, an up and coming young American; Gulbis, a reformed party animal, defeating Youzny, a good and experienced player from Russia; and Sania Mirza from India winning the first set from Shahar Peer, her former doubles partner, from Israel.
I watch tennis for the quality of play, strategy, determination and elegance rather than support any particular player for their national origin.  In the Peer and Mirza match, I noted the huge amount of support for Peer, I assume because she is Israeli and New York has a large Jewish population.  I didn’t appreciate this show of religious chauvinism.  I found a group of Indians to join in support of Sania, with whom I do not have either a religion or a nationality in common.

Aside from Irene, the weather in New York was unexpectedly pleasant.  Temperatures were in the low 80’s F and the humidity was also low.  There was a bout of rain one day for a few hours.  The storm swept away the pollution, leaving the sky unusually clear for the first two days of the Open.  New York brightens in sunshine and people show more color, seem happier.   It has been my favorite city since I first visited in 1962 when I was a student at LSE.  I still love it, but would be cautious about living there for several reasons.  Prominent among them is the difficulty that older people, my cohort in other words, have in negotiating the city.  I noticed them becoming tense and careful as younger people bob and weave around them on the streets and in the subways and strain carrying bags of groceries, especially when climbing on to a bus.  It must be much harder for them in the winter, with inclement weather and snow on the ground.   Although money can help avoid many of these inconveniences, being cooped up in an apartment for long periods in the winter is not an inviting prospect.  Alternatively, I suppose they can join the “snow bird” migration to Florida, a prospect I do not relish.   Over the years, sunny California’s appeal has grown, although annual or bi-annual visits to New York and London not in the winter would be welcome.


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