They founded this place 400 years ago this year among the Indians in the marshes, and no one’s looked back since. Some of the Dutch descendants are still around but you wouldn’t know it by reading the gossip columns or celebrity blogs. This is immigrant paradise, and the less European one looks and sounds the better. It’s the nominally post-racial New York, no longer the Noo Yawk of my youth, with its mournfully tender streets of kind-hearted Irish cops, Italian small-time hoods, black hipsters and Jewish merchants. Manhattan was George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, the heartache, fear, ambition and joy of the city pulsating in its rhythmic and soaring score. Not any more.
‘What has happened to this place where I used so happily to pound the sidewalks?’ mused John Cheever. ‘Where has my city gone, where shall I look for it?’ Drunker and drunker, Cheever never found the old place, staying mostly in Ossining where he wrote Falconer before drinking himself to death. I often ask myself the same question. What’s happened to the Plaza and the Sherry, Radio City and the Waldorf? They’re still around but, like Gordon Brown’s smile, they ain’t real any more. The Roxy, El Morocco, the Stork, the Biltmore, where we met under the clock, are gone for ever, a culture of runaway consumption having killed them off. As it has glamour. Socialites are now hawking wares on cable TV, and movie stars look like homeless people wrapped in expensive rags. Politicians no longer wear fedoras or gold chains in their waistcoats, and their voices are as false as ever but not stentorian. The beautiful jukeboxes are gone, as are the colourful Packard taxis waiting in rows in front of the Plaza. Now it’s all black limos with fat drivers dressed in black and talking on their cell phones.