Sunday, 18 April 2010

Our last day in New York

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

The next morning we went to Central Park Zoo, which we didn't have time to do the day before. It would have been nice to have looked for the Alice in Wonderland statue, but I didn't want to risk getting lost in Central Park again when we had to get back to make sure we got to the airport on time.

We had breakfast in the zoo restaurant, and had a look around. Central Park Zoo is renowned for its conservation work, and is generally lauded for its innovative use of a small amount of space. The child in me enjoys seeing cute, furry animals in the zoo; my adult self has problems reconciling the ethics of conservation work with the restrictions of captivity. As far as Central Park Zoo goes, their use of a small amount of space may be innovative, but doesn't alter the fact that it is a small amount of space. The polar bear in particular looked heartbreakingly bored when we looked into its sad eyes through the glass of its enclosure. The child in me, though, was very happy to see lemurs - still my favourite animals - and the red panda (also very high on my list of favourite cute and furry animals).

For reasons too dull to recount here, we had very little spending money for our last day in New York - we only just had enough for the zoo and breakfast. In the airport before we left, I didn't even have enough change in my purse for a packet of crisps. We still had a good day, but we had to have a picnic lunch in Herald Square Park because we didn't have enough money to have a proper lunch somewhere. I didn't mind too much, as Herald Square was one of the first places we saw when we arrived in New York. Herald Square, like many places we saw in New York, had trees covered in white blossom - now whenever I see white blossom I will be reminded of New York.

I think we did quite a lot while we were there, and there were only a couple of things that I missed that I would have liked to have done. I never did see the Alice in Wonderland statue. But my main regret is that - as I did a PhD on homosexuality in 20th century American drama - I had wanted to go to Greenwich Village and see the Stonewall Inn where the Stonewall Riot started, and walk past the street where my guidebook told me Edward Albee once lived. Maybe that means that I have unfinished business and should go back sometime...

New York day 3

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

After having a late night, we had a bit of a lie-in before taking the subway to the edge of Central Park. We had what might be the most unhealthy breakfast of our time in New York - an ice-cream from Coldstone, which had been recommended to us by a friend.

I had a number of landmarks in Central Park which I wanted to see, and we started off by looking for Belvedere Castle. We had planned to do quite a lot on our Central Park day and, in retrospect, I think we planned too much. Though we weren't helped by my horrendous sense of direction - Central Park is not well mapped, and we got lost in the aptly named Ramble when looking for the Castle. When I look back on it now, I feel that getting lost in Central Park is an essential New York rite of passage. And on the plus side, we did end up going through the Shakespeare Garden, which we might otherwise have missed.

Belvedere Castle is a 19th century folly that provides a good view over Central Park, and also doubles as a weather station. When local news reports give the temperature in Central Park, this will have come from the monitoring station in the castle. We also saw Bow Bridge, but unfortunately missed the Alice in Wonderland statue that I had also wanted to see.

Mark and I both had things that we wanted to see in Central Park. Mark's was the John Lennon Memorial in Strawberry Fields. This seemed to be one of the main tourist spots of the park, with seemingly constant tours going past and people jostling to have their photo taken by the Imagine mosaic. My priority was to see the Bethesda Fountain of Tony Kushner "Angels in America" fame. I was especially conscious of the connection to "Angels in America" on our trip, as the Walter Kerr Theatre in which we saw "A Little Night Music" was the venue for the premier of Kushner's plays. I was a little disappointed to find that the fountain was dry, but it is still an impressive statue with a picturesque backdrop of one of Central Park's expanses of water.

After some time in Central Park, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for some lunch and culture. Our visit to the Museum was very short, and I wish we had spent more time there. I had mainly wanted to see Seurat's study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (another Sondheim connection), and I had also wanted to see Edward Seichen's photo of the Flatiron (maybe my favourite NY building). Our guide book said it was at that museum, but it turns out that it was not on display (and we were told by someone who works there that the collection it is from has not been displayed for a while).

We were going to go down to the zoo, but we ran out of time. Instead we went to the Flatiron itself, and then went back to the hotel for a quick rest before going out again. At the time we were in New York, Antony Gormley's statues were on display and we saw one near the Flatiron.

We went to the Empire State Building that evening. This was one of the more frustrating experiences of our time in New York. The queues were huge and slow moving, and by the time we got to the top it was completely dark. I tried to spot the Flatiron, but in complete darkness it is very hard to distinguish one New York landmark from another (with the notable exception of the distinctive apex of the Chrysler Building). In retrospect from my experience at the Rockefeller Centre, the best time to get views of New York is sunset - to see the transition from daylight, through dusk, to the electrical extravagance of the lights of New York at night. A friend who has been up the Empire State has also recommended early morning (apparently the queues are shorter at this time). Our hotel offered the chance to buy VIP style tickets for the Empire State Building that allow you to skip the queues, and I did wish that we had taken the express route.

We then went for what turned out to be a longer walk than I expected to the Empire Diner, which I had heard about in my guide book. I looked to see if the Empire Diner had a website so that I could post a link to show you what it is like - and found that it was due to close (and probably has closed by now). Mark loves art deco style, so I thought he would like the diner (I was right). I had a milkshake as well as food there - I felt like when you are in an old-fashioned American diner, you really should have a milkshake. We recently watched Woody Allen's "Manhattan," and it was a thrill to see the outside of the Empire Diner in one of the early shots of the film. For me, that was probably the best bit of the film, and shows what an iconic New York landmark the Empire Diner was.

We walked back to the hotel. I made the mistake of suggesting we walked around a different way to see a bit of New York we hadn't seen before. This was a bad idea. The new bit of New York that we saw was very industrial, run-down and a bit dodgy with lots of lorry bays - although it did mean we saw some old fashioned looking tenement buildings with metal fire escapes outside. I did also see the outside of the Chelsea Hotel, though - this was exciting for me, as a number of writers I admire have stayed there (Tennessee Williams, Dylan Thomas...).

It was a strange and exciting feeling to end our last full day in New York, walking along a street that Tennessee Williams had walked.

New York day 2

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Mark had wanted to do a helicopter journey over New York, and on an impulse we booked to do this today (New York was having an unseasonable heatwave while we were there, which was due to break the next day).

As this was an impulse, we had a hurried journey by subway to get to the South Ferry Pier. This was our first subway journey. I wasn't too worried about being on the subway - mainly because I was too busy worrying about going in a helicopter. I used to love flying when I was a child but, as I got older and became more aware of mortality, I became more nervous about flying. I was worried because I vaguely remembered a news story a year or two ago about a helicopter crashing into the Hudson. Mark reminded me that it wasn't a helicopter - apparently it was a small plane. I'm not sure that knowing that made me feel any better.

There are quite a few helicopter companies that run trips from South Ferry - and on the approach to the pier, you are likely to be beseiged by a number of people trying to convince you to take a helicopter trip with their company.

The helicopter trip lasted 20 minutes and was pretty expensive, but as an experience I felt it was worth the money. It was still a bit misty (smoggy?), but seeing New York from the air is a good way of appreciating the scale of the city. I believe that on the day we went they had instituted a new law that prevents helicopter trips from flying directly over Central Park. The trip we went on instead skirted around the park - I didn't feel that I enjoyed it any less due to this, although while waiting for the trip we were treated to an argument from someone who was due to take a helicopter trip and was unhappy that the trip would not be as advertised. Beware that they will also probably try to sell you a photo of yourself by the helicopter after landing as well, even though you have already paid over a reasonable sum of money for the trip itself.

Because our helicopter trip was an impulse deal and we had taken off early, we hadn't had any breakfast. So we had our first New York bagel in a little shop near Wall Street. I had wanted to see Trinity Church at the end of Wall Street, as it looked very attractive in the New York guidebook that we had. We also saw the front of the New York Stock Exchange, although by now it was mid morning so we didn't see many Gordon Gekkos bustling around.

From Wall Street we went to Ground Zero. When we were there Ground Zero was a building site, as I believe they are building a memorial. I'm not sure that it would be possible to visit New York and not go to Ground Zero - I feel like attention must be paid. I still feel that the destruction of the Twin Towers is our generation's death of JFK - everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard what had happened.

After going through the Winter Garden shopping centre (a huge marble and glass extravaganza, with palm trees growing inside the main concourse), we walked through Battery Park (which appears to be New York's squirrel central). We walked around the waterfront of Battery Park, with a view of the Statue of Liberty. In accordance with my father's wishes - he is keen on family history - I checked the name plaques of the war memorials for our family name, but didn't see it there. We weren't in the phone book either.

We then got the Staten Island Ferry to get better views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. In retrospect the Staten Island Ferry is probably not the best way to get to see the Statue of Liberty - although it is the free way. There are boat trips which will take you to the Statue and Ellis Island - and these will probably take you closer than the Staten Island Ferry does. It is hard on the Staten Island Ferry to get the chance to take photos unless you get on quickly and try and make sure no-one is in front of you. I thought that I would stay on the ferry when we got to Staten Island so that I could get a better view - but they don't let you stay on the ferry at the other side (you have to get off and get back on again). On the plus side though, Mark made friends with a local commuter while I was trying to get some good photos.

We went out for an early Italian before going back to the hotel to get ready for the theatre. I had been warned that people don't tend to dress up for the theatre on Broadway (apart from first nights), but I decided that I wanted to dress up. I wore my favourite red dress. This might be my only chance to go to the theatre on Broadway - and to a Sondheim - and I wanted to be glamorous.

We were going to see "A Little Night Music" at the Walter Kerr Theatre (decor - enthusiastic about red plush seats and gilt, short on leg room - although I am also short on leg, so it didn't bother me too much). If I were to make a Nick Hornby-esque list of my favourite Sondheim shows, "A Little Night Music" would be around the middle of the list - although probably upper middle. It is a tale of romantic and bitter-sweetly comic intrigue, based on the Bergman film "Smiles of a Summer Night." It is probably one of Sondheim's most accessible shows, but I have to admit that I prefer him when he is more quirky or daring.

I was also excited about seeing Angela Lansbury on stage. I grew up liking Angela Lansbury: when I was a child "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" was one of my favourite films to the extent that I always wanted to be called Miss Price in role-play games; and I enjoyed watching "Murder, She Wrote," despite being aware that she would probably run out of friends because they all seemed to end up as murderers or victims. My favourite Disney films strangely fed in to my adult interest in Sondheim musicals - just as Angela Lansbury is revered as an interpreter of Sondheim's work, one of my first crushes was Dean Jones in "That Darn Cat," who went on to star in "Company." I even have a Sondheim-y name (Amy is a character in "Company," and my middle name is also used in "A Little Night Music").

I wasn't disappointed by Angela Lansbury's performance, even despite my high expectations. She played Mme Armfeldt with eccentric, crotchety charm. Her delivery was faultless - and her interpretation of "Liaisons" marks probably the only time that I have not been vaguely annoyed by the rhyming of liaisons with raisins.

As well as Angela Lansbury, the star casting came in the form of Catherine Zeta Jones. I'm not a huge fan - I don't dislike her, but I didn't have the same anticipation about seeing her on stage. That said, she was very good. To play Desiree Armfeldt is to follow in illustrious footsteps - for example Glynis Johns, or Dame Judi Dench, both of whom have very distinctive singing styles. "Send in the Clowns" was, after all, written with Glynis Johns in mind once she had been cast - and was written with regard to her strengths and limitations as a singer. Catherine Zeta Jones is technically a better singer, and also effectively put across the emotion in the music. The male lead was Alexander Hanson. I hope it is not disparaging to say that he is not a big star name, but by no means does this imply that he is any less talented than Catherine Zeta Jones. I had actually seen him years ago in the only West End play I have ever seen (Ayckbourn's "How the Other Half Loves," which owes much to "Private Lives"). It was pleasantly nostalgic to see him again, like bumping into an old school friend with whom you had lost touch.

We walked back through Times Square at night. Times Square is more spectacular at night, when the glitter and glare of the neon signs light up the sky. That said, I did finish the evening feeling that I am a bit too old and grumpy for Times Square at night. Imagine a frustrated day shopping in a city centre with people dawdling in front of you and stopping randomly in your way - times that by one hundred - and you have a rough idea of my impatience with Times Square at night. Although I think that is more an indictment of my of my old, antisocial irascibility than it is of the bustle of the place itself.

I did get a kick out of seeing a guy in an Elmo costume mingling with the crowds outside Planet Hollywood....

New York day 1

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

On our first full day in New York we got up early and went to the Rockefeller Center. I think that this might have been my favourite time in New York - when the city is less crowded, and your main street fellows are early rising businessmen and women with their Starbucks coffee cups for a caffeine hit.

New York will seem familiar to anyone who watches lots of films. I got a bit overexcited that early morning and took a photo of a random intersection just because an iconic yellow cab was going past. The streets really do have iron grids which you can imagine Marilyn Monroe standing above in a billowing white dress (and which demand a whole new skill set when walking in heels). The subways unsettlingly call to mind shoot-outs with the bad guys hiding behind slightly discoloured, grimy pillars. Or horror films with nasty little creatures skittering in the dark (after watching "Cloverfield" I really wasn't sure about going to New York - it always seems to be attacked by big, scary monsters in the movies).

Actually my subway horror movie of choice would be "Mimic." It is maybe not a cinematic masterpiece, but Jeremy Northam is damn fine.

In keeping with the many businessmen and women, we started the day with a Starbucks breakfast(raspberry coffee cake in honour of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum and a dark cherry mocha which was pleasantly like drinking black forest gateaux). I'm still getting over the disappointment that Starbucks don't seem to do the dark cherry mocha in the UK.

Our first sightseeing experience was going to the top of the Rockefeller Centre. I quite liked the Rock and I did think that it had better views of NY than the Empire State (and I did have it pointed out to me before going that you can't take a photo of the Empire State Building from the Empire State Building!). If you are a romantic, then the morning we went the city was shrouded in softening mist - if you are a realist, then the city was obscured by smog. The Rockefeller Centre has a great view of Central Park, which gives you an idea of the expanse of real estate given over to greenery (it is apparently the same size as Monaco). Sadly, the view of one of New York's most loved buildings - the Chrysler - is partially obscured by the less attractive Metlife building when viewed from the Top of the Rock.

After exploring the Rockefeller Centre, we decided to go and pick up our theatre tickets (for "A Little Night Music") to make sure we could find the theatre - and they were also doing signings of the CD cast recording that day. To get there, we walked through Times Square. Times Square is a monument to consumerism and a nightmare of an electricity bill.

When we got to the theater, there were already people queueing for the signing. My husband was very understanding in losing 3 hours of precious sightseeing time in a queue. I have been a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim since I was a teenager (which, sadly, is now quite a long time ago). So when a friend, Alan, told me that Sondheim was doing a signing while we were in New York, it felt like an opportunity that I could not miss. There was a pleasant, chatty, camaraderie in our bit of the queue. I know the side of the Walter Kerr theatre quite well now - it has a kind of waterfall down the side of the building, which might be unfortunate if you had missed your chance for a toilet break before joining the queue.

I felt nervous. It wasn't exactly how I would have liked to have met Sondheim (I had a big spot on my cheek, I had spilt grape juice on my top - which luckily was purple, so it didn't show - and my comfortable boots had started to disintegrate). Rather than have to break in new boots while walking around New York, I had temporarily managed to fix my old ones by sewing them up and fixing it with glue. So I wasn't at my most socially poised (I'm never that socially poised anyway). They actually did the signing on the stage - so I can literally say with pride that I have been on stage on Broadway. And they had put down the red carpet treatment. I'm relieved to say that I didn't make an idiot of myself (which I worried about doing). The whole cast was there for the signing. I wished Sondheim a belated happy birthday, and he said thank you. I'm just glad that I said something to him that wasn't ridiculous, and that he said something back to me. I'd rather not say anything to someone I admire, than say something that might make them think that I am a fawning gimp. He won't remember me of course, but at least I didn't make an idiot of myself in front of someone that I admire a lot. Despite the glued shoes.

From there we had a late lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square (I'm not entirely sure that it's not criminal to go from meeting Sondheim to the Hard Rock Cafe - but I felt that we should also do some cheesey American things). I actually wasn't feeling too hungry, so I ordered a starter size of nachos (which turned out to be huge - the only time in America that we really experienced the fabled massive portions of food).

We then spent the rest of the afternoon walking around various sights. We went to see the art deco grandeur of the Chrysler Building. This is my husband's favourite building, and I think he was suitably impressed by the rich golds and pinky-red marble of the lobby. We saw the extravagant concourse of Grand Central Station with its dance of bustling commuters, but didn't explore the passages below (only since returning have I heard of the acoustics of the whispering corners in the passages of the station). Helene Hanff describes Grand Central Station as being beloved by tourists for its grandeur, but hated by native New Yorkers for its complicated platforms. We also explored a very grand building that turned out to be New York's Public Library - a huge, overwhelming building.

Our last stop of that day was back to the Rock. We had a drink in the bar downstairs, from which you can view the skaters on the ice rink outside. I found myself longing to see a show-off skater fall over - and then felt very chastened and guilty when he stopped to help a wobbly young child who didn't seem very confident on the ice.

I would recommend the day and night ticket at the Rockefeller Centre, which allows you to go up twice in one day. We used our second time to get some night photos. We actually went up to the top while it was still light, and waited for the sun to set. I'm not a great photographer, but the photos that I took at sunset on this day were probably my favourite of the trip. It was a great way to end the day.

More on Helene Hanff

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I'm having a bit of an Helene Hanff obsession, and have googled her today to find out what else she has written that I have not yet read. I am quite excited to find that there is an omnibus in the stacks of our local library that contains a couple of books that I have not read yet (it also includes "Apple of my Eye," and I am hoping that this will be the revised edition).

Today I also finished re-reading "Underfoot in Show Business." This, like Helene's book on New York, is a lively, entertaining read. When Helene first moved to New York, it was as an aspiring playwright with a promising future. However, in accordance with Flanagan's Law ("No matter what happens to you, it's unexpected) her playwriting career was a bit of a bust. However, she does find what seemed to be an enduring friendship with an also aspiring actress called Maxine, and edges her way into a writing career.

In writing about "Apple of my Eye," I wrote that her easy, natural writing style was probably quite hard to cultivate. This book demonstrates how hard working she was as a writer, and how dedicated she was to getting it right (she undertakes to learn Greek and Latin in the belief that she would only be able to select the precisely right English word by understanding the Greek or Latin root of the word). That said, some of the most entertaining elements of the book come when she spectacularly gets it wrong (such as writing a television script about Rhodope for a television show - The Hallmark Hall of Fame - with a highly moral sponsor, only to find on the morning of transmission that the source of her inspiration had misrepresented Rhodope as an innocent slave girl when she had actually been an infamous prostitute).

I think it is quite entertaining to note something that Helene herself pointed out.

When she first moved to New York from Philadelphia, it was under the auspices of winning a fellowship from the Bureau on New Plays. They had offered $1500 to a couple of deserving new playwrights each year.

The year Helene won, the Theatre Guild decided that it was not in the playwrights' best interests to award them money, but then leave them to go their own way in the hard world of show business. They decided that in addition to the money from the Bureau of New Plays, they would also offer some training - so the year Helene won a fellowship, they were also treated to seminars from eminent theatre professionals. They were also given the chance to sit in on the preparations for a selection of Theatre Guild productions.

Of the twelve lucky hopefuls given this training (including Helene), a couple went on to become screen and television writers, but none of them became playwrights. The Theatre Guild productions they were privileged to have an insight into, all flopped.

The year previously, the two hopefuls who were awarded the money but received no training, and were left to their own devices, were Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.

Book review: Helene Hanff's "Apple of my Eye"

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I discovered Helene Hanff quite a few years ago, when I was sent a copy of "84 Charing Cross Road" by a friend, Alan. My friendship with Alan is almost like our personal homage to Helene as - like her epistolary friendship with Frank Doel - we have corresponded for a number of years, but we have never met. I value my paperback copy of "84 Charing Cross Road," not because it is a first edition (it isn't), but because Alan has written in it, "Hoping our friendship lasts at least as long as theirs did." By my reckoning we are probably about 6 years off their record.

It is very fitting, in the light of this, that the main comment on my New York reading list came from Alan. He pointed out that New York is a vibrant, constantly changing city and that all my choices are books that are quite old (the most recent being Underworld). They are therefore about a New York that no longer exists.

This is a fair observation, and I could analyse the reasons for this. So I will.

Firstly - the purely practical; my choice was based on raiding my bookshelves for New York books, and those were the ones that I had.

Secondly - modern NY novels are to some extent shaped by the tragedy of the Twin Towers and, as a slightly nervous flier, this did not seem to be a good choice for airplane reading. It is right and proper to acknowledge the tragedy, which is probably the shooting of JFK for our generation (most people can remember what they were doing when they heard what had happened). We did see Ground Zero - currently a building site (this is the photo on this article, as seen from some seats where older men meet to play chess like they do in the movies).

Lastly, I probably cling to a romantic idea of the old NY that does not exist any more - the good-hearted gangsters of Damon Runyon, museums that don't charge an entrance fee (but just ask for a donation). There is probably a cyclical element to this analysis. I only chose from the books that I have on my bookshelf, and they represent my attraction to a romanticised, old-fashioned New York.

Which brings me to Helene Hanff - but in a good way. My airplane reading in the end was Helene Hanff's "Apple of my Eye" (not a big surprise - I think this was always going to be my top choice from the time I rediscovered it on my bookshelves).

"Apple of my Eye," was written when Helene was commissioned to write copy for a book of New York photographs. She was initially enthusiastic to be hired to write about something that she loves so dearly. This excitement was tempered by the realisation that, as someone who lives in New York, she had never seen the tourist sites. She sets out to rectify this with a friend, Patsy Gibbs, who also realises that she has not visited the places that New Yorkers take for granted. Patsy and Helene are also both scared of heights - which is unfortunate when so many of the New York landmarks are so tall.

This book was written in 1977 (and, I have just discovered, revised in 1988 - I have the earlier version). For obvious reasons, it should not be read as a guide book. However, it is a very entertaining read with a very easy, natural style (that probably takes a lot of work to cultivate). Helene Hanff is fascinated by history, and subjects Patsy to historical digressions that apparently bore her but fascinate the reader. There are mysteries along the way: why they are the only Americans on a bus tour of Harlem; an apparently disappearing plaque/tombstone in Trinity Church, and whether a bank in Wall Street ever replaced the stolen plaque that marked the position of the titular wall.

The thing that most dates the book is probably its most poignant detail - at the time of writing, construction was just being completed on the World Trade Center. As Helene Hanff died in 1997, she thankfully did not live to see the tragedy that would befall her beloved New York. I like to think she would be reassured that the city has resolutely refused to be beaten into submission.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The dilemma of traveling

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

In a couple of days time we are going on holiday to New York, and we will have a flight for about 8 hours. This leaves me with the important dilemma that I always have when I travel anywhere - what shall I take with me to read?

I like to read something set in the place I am going, so I have been raiding my bookshelves for books set in New York.

So far I am coming up with:

"Underworld" by Don Delillo. I have been meaning to read this for ages, and I have enjoyed the books that I have read by him. The one thing that puts me off is the practicality - it is a quite a thick and heavy book to carry when traveling.

"New York Trilogy" by Paul Auster. I read this years ago, and enjoyed it. I'd quite like to read it again, and I do think of it as a quintessential New York book. This is one of my top choices.

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith. I was given this by a friend years ago, as it is a book he loves. I still haven't read it, and I feel rather guilty that I still haven't read it.

"Guys and Dolls and Other Stories" by Damon Runyon. Another of my top choices. This has a more period angle on New York, and I think is probably lighter reading (and carrying) than a couple of my other choices.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Truman Capote. I'm not sure about this one. I will read it at some point - but it doesn't appeal to me right now. This is probably one that I am less likely to take.

Underfoot in Showbusiness" and "Apple of my Eye" by Helen Hanff. I was quite excited to find these on my bookshelves at my parent's house, as I had forgotten that I owned them. I will definitely take these. Helene Hanff - who is probably best known for "84 Charing Cross Road" - is a very engaging writer, and I will enjoy reading her take on the New York she knew so well. That's also another advantage of the book - it is about New York, not just set in New York.

I know what will probably happen. I won't be able to decide, and I will probably take the Helene Hanff books, the Damon Runyon and the Paul Auster. They are not very thick (in fact the 4 of them together would probably not be as thick and heavy as just taking "Underworld").

Incidentally, I am very excited - and this relates to my last blog post. I have just discovered that Stephen Sondheim and the cast of "A Little Night Music" are doing a signing of cast recordings while I am in New York. I think I might have to join the queue for this...