New York diary


I do not know what it is like to live there, but as a visitor, no matter how many times I’ve been to the city before, New York does not fail to impress. Like Venice, Paris, or Mumbai, its character assails you the moment you step into the city. Arriving by train into the New York Penn station, the same passengers who were relaxed and laid back when they boarded the train in the suburbs spring into motion, like toys with wound up keys, and march with an infectious purpose through the station into the maze-like streets of Manhattan. The press of humanity that begins here continues unabated, in the subway, the cafes, the museums, and you always know you are in New York because its signature, the dense racial mix, is hard to miss. Mexicans, Indians, Chinese, Africans, Europeans, Americans: all in one subway car, like a grand social experiment designed to observe inter-racial behaviour in a confined setting. The experiment is not a success: nothing much happens, each individual is self-absorbed: immersed in a book, listening to music, or simply lost in thought; communication, when it occurs, is not between members in the car but with someone far away, reached through a mobile phone.

The mobile devices I spotted on the subway were all iPhones. A young woman stood beside me checking her iCalender, switching between a few dates; 14th: Finish Chapter 9, Long NC; 15th: Take your pills!; 18th: Dinner with Mq & Tj. Later, in a cafe, the dozen or so tables were occupied by men and women peering into a screen in front; all those laptops bore the Apple logo, and a bluish tinge in the eyes of many suggested a Facebook page. A master-slave relationship was evident; humans seemed to have surrendered, unconsciously, to machines.

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Ugly witches and a little mouse

Last December my eight-year old nephew visited us from the U.S. It was his first trip to Germany, his first long vacation away from home in many years, and his eagerness to get here was matched by our enthusiasm to prepare for his visit. Wife and I planned and emailed him a ten-day itinerary, full of events and day-trips and guided tours for kids, to which he replied with a request, politely phrased, for more time at home. We guessed why — home was ideal for playing games on his Nintendo DS — but it turned out that there was more to it than video games.

The boy is a reader. In his ten days here he read as many books and finished half my collection of the complete Tintin series. When I told him how happy I was to see him read, he thanked me with a wide smile and added that last year, in his second grade, he had read a hundred and seventy five books, just twenty five short of the mark the school had set for the first prize, an iPod. No one had won it, but he seemed confident to reach the goal this year.

Continue reading “Ugly witches and a little mouse”