Leaving the apartment for the last time, I went in a cab to Fifth Avenue where I left my luggage at the office of a friend of Robert Leiper’s. Then Robert and I went to the apartment of another friend of his on 45th Avenue / 11th Street. This friend (very amiable, always smiling when he talked) had a collection of “Outsider” art which he showed us round – mostly done by black artists, including some very good portraits painted with Alabama mud (the artist being too poor to afford conventional oil paints). The apartment building was locally famous as Judge Crator, one of the residents in the 1920s, “disappeared” there (he had links with the mafia).
We took Robert’s friend to lunch, and met up with yet another friend at Café Florian in the Meat Packing District. This was described to me alternatively as a typical New York diner and “a hang-out for Downtown hipsters”. It was very crowded, and every table seemed taken, but the waiter knew one of Robert’s friends, and found us a table in a corner. I just had an omelette and a cup of coffee.
After lunch Robert and I took the Subway, emerging near the main New York Post Office (Robert scornful of the inscription on the outside of the building: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds). To the New York Public Library, a vast white neo-classical building designed by Carrére and Hastings, the place where Robert does most of his research (it is one of the great libraries of America). We went up to the main reading room where hundreds of desks were lined in rows, all of them occupied. “This is a great place to pick up girls” Robert told me.
Last hour and a half in New York was spent in The Village, in 13th Street near a universty that had been founded by Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Because I was a little tired of coffee all the time we went to Thé Adore, a place that sold only tea. It was so small that we had to wait for twenty minutes sat at a table on the sidewalk until a table became available inside. As we waited I looked down the street to the left, to where a cream coloured art deco block stood over the next intersection of streets. There was something about the cream coloured building against the pale blue sky that seemed very impressive (unfortunately I had packed my camera, so wasn’t able to take a picture).
Eventually a Chinese waiter in a white coat and white baseball cap showed us inside and upstairs to a vacant table. The floors and stairs were just bare boards. The room was crammed with eight small, very distressed, tables – all of them occupied. Our table was in the window. The cups of tea cost about four dollars each, and you choose what kind of tea you want from a menu of about fifteen choices (I ordered Darjeeling).
On the three tables near us (so close we were almost elbow to elbow) were two middle-aged women discussing yoga (whenever the Chinese waiter did anything for them they told each other how cute he was), a Japanese girl in white designer clothes, talking into a cellphone and daintily eating a pastry (“How do you know she’s Japanese and not Chinese?” I asked Robert. “Trust me. I know Japanese girls” he said), and on the last table a teenage boy (aged eighteen or nineteen) in jeans and a pink Lacoste polo shirt, sitting with a older woman who was obviously his mother. The teenage boy was very confident, talked very loudly, and seemed to have an opinion on everything.
“Spanish wine is the same as French wine, only cheaper” said the teenager.
“New York brat” said Robert, not bothering to lower his voice. The teenager and his mother took no notice.
“I like to read, but I don’t like to read literature” said the teenager. “The next book I’m going to read is Bellow’s Herzog.”
“No”, said his mother “you ought to read Ravelstein.”
“When he’s read Herzog he’ll be unbearable” Robert told the mother.
“Have you read Herzog?” I asked Robert, wanting to deflect any confrontation.
“Was that the moment when you became unbearable?”