Despite the old saying and the best efforts of Qantas, you can go home again, even if home is New York and you’ve been more or less happily exiled in Sydney for near-on two decades. What you find there when you land is of course a whole different story.
With Bill De Blasio at the helm, New York has a socialist pothead mayor who – when he can be bothered showing up to work – is nothing more than a two-bit Bernie Sanders waging war against excellence in schools, small business and the whole neighbourhood of the Upper East Side. The rot has set in elsewhere. Since the decriminalisation of marijuana, you can’t walk down a street without copping a cloud of some stoner’s jazz cigarette. Homelessness is rife, and not just beggars: from the loud and aggressive to the utterly passed out and insensate. Catching up with the Daily Telegraph’s Miranda Devine, who’s spending the next year or so at the New York Post on a dream gig covering American affairs and the coming election, I hear that many people are talking about the city sliding back into the bad old days pre-Rudy Giuliani. One wonders if both the city and his current client, Donald Trump, might be better off if he went back to his old job?
One other noticeable change is that New York’s sense of style seems to be slipping away. Walking through midtown in a suit and tie, I was one of only a handful of gents similarly attired. The just-been-bailed suit with no tie look has taken hold, with even some of the best clubs loosening their dress codes to accommodate it. The guys who do this while carrying a backpack on both shoulders may as well be wearing cargo shorts.
Part of the reason for the trip was an 80th birthday luncheon for my father, ex-Time Magazine essayist and now regular Wall Street Journal contributor Lance Morrow (this is a family business, and as always the challenge for sons is to be more Michael than Fredo). Warned in no uncertain terms to be on my best behaviour, I found myself seated next to none other than Carl Bernstein – he of Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein, and All The President’s Men fame. Happily there was no Trump talk that might have derailed the festivities which, by happy coincidence, took place before the Democrats decided to pull the pin on the impeachment grenade. Instead, he regaled the table with stories of his time as a college drop-out newspaper cadet on the now defunct Washington Star newspaper. Apparently two days into the gig, the chief copyboy ordered Bernstein, in his brand-new white corduroy suit (which was the fashion at the time) to wash all the carbon paper – which he dutifully did in the men’s room sink, covering himself from head to toe in black soot. Had someone snapped a photo, or daguerreotype, or whatever the medium was of the day, he might well have been mistaken for a young Justin Trudeau.
Speaking of Justin Trudeau, what fun it was to be in North America while reams of photos of the Canadian Prime Minister in blackface hit the presses. ‘Worthwhile Canadian Initiative’ was, when I was a lad in New York, the punchline to the joke about the world’s most boring headline contest (runner up: ‘Whither NATO?’). Sue me. I grew up in a family of pundits, journalists and flaks. Entertaining as Monsieur Le Woke’s dress-up habits might have been, a far more interesting night was had listening to Jason Kenney, who held the immigration and defence portfolios in the very sound government of Stephen Harper and is now the conservative Premier of Alberta, in town on a trade mission. His message: the Left is nothing but a pack of hypocrites when it comes to energy, doing everything they can to block fossil fuels in the West which forces a greater dependence on the nasty theocratic and misogynist regimes of the Middle East, and that it’s time to get fracking and build more pipelines. The Left? Hypocrites? I know, take a deep breath. Coming from NSW, where despite a centre-right Liberal government ‘conservative’ is a dirty word and where the planning and approvals systems for resource projects are a shambles, Kenney’s words were a breath of fresh air.
Upstate New York – which I grew up thinking referred to the bedroom suburbs north of the Bronx – may be some of the most gorgeous country on Earth, particularly the Hudson River Valley. But while the beauty may be uniform, the politics are not, and the tensions are palpable between long-time rural residents, often with MAGA stickers on their trucks and TRUMP 2020 flags in their yards, and recently-arrived New Yorkers who suffer fainting spells at the mere mention of Brett Kavanaugh. I know who I’d rather hang out with.
While provisioning in the western Massachussetts town of Stockbridge we pop into a local bottle shop and find 1.75 litre jugs of premium gin (and at a proper strength, not watered down to 40 per cent like most of the stuff we get here) for something like $40. Even with the horrendous currency conversion, this is still an incredibly good deal compared to what we pay here in Australia. Tweeting a picture of this and pointing out the ridiculousness of the narrative that Australia is a cheap-booze country, I quickly find myself blocked by the nannies at the Foundation for Alcohol Responsibility and Education. Later, a mate who works in the spirit industry tells me that that retail price would barely cover the duty alone on a bottle of gin in Australia. Naturally, we carried our (legal) weight in duty free back on the way to Sydney.