Thursday, 7 June 2007

Issue 9 - River

28 May 2005

The East River. Don't let its toxic appearance at the surface fool you - I'm certain it's toxic all the way to the bottom as well.

Firstly, welcome to all of you who are visiting for the first time. In the true tradition of telemarketers and Washington lobby groups, we've mined our collective databases to find another 50 or so names of people who were missing out on the Apteryx haastii experience. I don't know how you define success, but if you search on Google for Apteryx haastii, we are now listed second (up from third a week ago). If you still don't know what an Apteryx haastii is, then you should do the search, and click on the site which so unreasonably comes up first. The Great Spotted Kiwi never had it so good.

Secondly, I have a quick favour to ask: we're looking to use the Ringo webtool to keep track of our mailing list - could you please quickly sign up there? (Here's a nice LINK for you). This way, I can send a group message to let you know there is an update rather than risking the ire of the nice folk at my employer by sending personal messages from my work address! Thanks (and thanks especially to the nice folk at my employer - don't fire me for saying something I shouldn't have. Please).

Third, you're a difficult group to please. Last week's post prompted a storm of criticism - "not enough pictures," the entertainment-hungry public cried. It's bad news for you, but I actually like the writing side of blogging, but since we're in the entertainment business, some photos are at the bottom of this page from our evening walk over the Brooklyn Bridge last night. Summer must be coming - last night was the first time it has been warm enough to even consider walking near either river without initial aerodynamic testing of our clothing to prevent being lifted off the ground and dropped in to the scary stream of toxic waste which is the East River.

I've often railed about how US cities (and Swiss ones for that matter) like to ignore the fact they are on a waterway, and instead of exploiting the natural beauty of water, choose to put a road or motorway along the waterfront. I'm beginning to see the historical rationale behind this though. We live at the bottom of Manhattan - the part of the US with the longest history. It's all relative of course - the barn next to our old ski-pad in Flims (Switzerland) was built in 1588 (yes, the 16th century), and that was a young building. The US was not even a country until 188 years later (and New Zealand was not even called a dominion until 252 years later). The definition of "old" or "historic" is a subjective value.

Going back a long time, settlers to New York from other places always thought of themselves as being on the way to somewhere else, which meant they took a very transitory approach to local resources. The most obvious example here is the way the rivers were the rubbish and sewage dumping points for the growing city. In theory, the rivers take the rubbish out for you, so how bad could it be? The answer to modern greenies is clear of course - the Hudson and East rivers are at least partly tidal rivers, so what goes out to sea also comes back another 12 hours later, and washes straight back up on the foreshore. As a result - the foreshore was a truely unpleasant place, so why would anyone wish to live there? The foreshore was therefore crying out for a nice six-lane highway to protect residents from the stench.

Now, most advanced economies have come to terms with the fact that the expansion of human civilisation needs to at least attempt to maintain a balance with the natural environment around it. As a practical example, the atmosphere's way of punishing London for simply pumping coal smoke into the air was the "pea-souper" - a thick green fog so bad that in one week in 1952 "The Great London Fog" killed at least four thousand people. Just to give you an idea, theatres were closed after the choking fog entered the (then new) National Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames and obscured the stage from the back rows. In 1956, the UK government passed the Clean Air act, which outlawed smoke-producing fuels. In my two years in London, there was no shortage of drizzle, but almost no fog, and certainly not one "pea-souper". I'm the last person to argue that the air in London is clean, but I will say that I'm pretty sure my allergies would would have been a good deal worse if the Great Fog was still a possibility. The point here is mirrored all over the world - the developed world has been working on cleaning up waterways and air quality, with some limited although significant success.

New York, on the other hand, seems to be well behind the global curve here. If you live in New York, you genuinely start to believe the rest of the world exists just to keep New York alive. I work for an American bank, built on the 20th century American economic miracle, which now is totally global in nature, reflecting the reality of the 21st century (did you like the rhetoric in that one - I could run for office here. If Ahhhhnold can do it, surely someone who speaks English stands a fair chance?).

New York is the financial powerhouse though - if you took the non-US part of the world out, you would eliminate around 35% of my bank's total revenue, and if you took the whole non-NY world out, you would only eliminate 45% of total revenue. [[Scary legal bit: don't quote me, or sell or buy any shares as a result of any number I say here - these are 100% OPINION only - I've not tied my opinion back to any public or private info about the bank I work for! I'm NOT kidding - don't sue me, you have NOTHING to rely on here]].

Hence, if you work in Banking, you think the world can't survive without New York. The same goes for the movie industry (see my sidebar below), the fashion industry, the poodle-grooming industry and so on. In the end, the whole pile of fluff we always hear about New York being "the centre of the universe" which we all hate - it's scary but after a mere seven weeks here, I'm beginning to see what they are getting at!

What this means however is that New Yorkers all see the environment as someone else's problem. They feel that if they are busy being the centre of the universe, it's only one small island, so the rest of the world can do the environment thing. New York is a massive consumer of resource, but a major producer of economic energy. When the Bush Baby administration decided to can the Kyoto accord, I kept asking, "How is that possible? Who in the world is anti-environment," as if it was a tautology (old debating term for an obviously true statement). By contrast, in New York, those who cared asked, "Wow, they had a world environmental forum in a restaurant on Lexington Avenue. It must be pretty good." (the restaurant, not the forum)

In the US, economic energy is perceived as the power of all things good, so the rest of the world had better get busy saving the environment.

Otherwise, I'll need to get a rope so I can moor my boat to my balcony on the 29th floor when the sea level rises.

That's what happened to Venice, and that was last major city-state in history (from the 16th century no less).


There was a movie scene being shot outside my office building last Friday. I'm pretty sure I was the only one excited by this fact though - according to the Mayor's special office for the film industry there are 100 films and TV shows being shot in NY this week. Hence the following logical conumdrum:

The whole world wants to see films set in New York

The whole of New York doesn't care even a little bit about movies set in New York

New York doesn't care (or even know) even a little bit about the rest of the word


The whole world watches movies which feature (by definition) bored New Yorkers;

and New York watches.......

Nothing - it's not cool to get excited anyway.

Unless its the Yankees or the Mets. And even then only if you cared.

Actually, the Time Out or Village Voice magazines' reviews of new restaurants or bars tend to generate some excitement. Makes sense really - not relevant to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is not relevant to New York. Only New York is relevant to New York!


Bis nächste Woche!



Events this week:

Saturday (last week): a great night out with Andrew Beattie (not another English Andrew, surely), and his excellent friends, Sam, David and Kevin. What a great Thai restaurant in the East Village - we need to make that a regular occasion just so that we can have the duck curry more often! The restaurant: Montien

Tuesday: Kim climbing! Yay! She has a climbing partner! Yay for her! And especially for me!

Thursday: Dinner in a cool but tiny restaurant on Prince Street in SoHo with Bryan and Kristen (formerly from Colorado and Zurich). Well done Snowy and Caroline - we did all eventually meet up thanks to your persistence, and the four of us are all grateful! The restaurant: Alma Blu

Friday: Walk across Brooklyn Bridge to enjoy one day in a row of spring weather. Photos below (don't give in yet!)

Saturday: Kim paints the bedroom orange. Sorry Mr Hall - I know we should have spoken with you first! Photos to follow after the third coat!


Had enough? Did you see last week's post about how I think Wall St will be a supermarket soon?

Didn't think so


And now for the photos:

Downtown from Brooklyn Bridge. The whtie spot -----------^----------- there is the top of our building.

The boss - smiling now she has a climbing partner.

An arty shot to finish (artist credits to Kim). Brooklyn Bridge at sunset.

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