New York. It’s not the architecture, or the hustle, or even the simple excitement of being somewhere different than home, it’s a feeling. To quote Billy Joel, I’m in a New York State of Mind. London, Paris, Swindon, New York. They’re all the kind of cities that feel like the penultimate chapter in a epic narrative, a story that somehow never ends but is always heading somewhere. (OK, I was joking about Swindon.)
I sit in a park on the East bank of the East River directly opposite the United Nations, where this Wednesday president Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives (one of my upcoming interviewees) will deliver a speech about the need for action on climate change. Not one of the 1190 islands that make up the Maldives is more than six feet above sea level. So as the planet warms and the seas expand the risk is that they’ll be less and less of the Maldives to see.
Colin and I talk about his work as a neuroscientist and for the first time since I’ve known him I actually understand a lot of what he is taking about. All the research I’ve been doing for my interviews with George Church and Juan Enriquez has given me a small window into Colin’s world, and I like him even more. Colin is trying to get to the bottom of how memory works, and specifically how to cure or prevent diseases that affect our ability to recall things, notably Alzheimer’s. That makes him a hero in my world. He offers to introduce me to the head of his laboratory, René Hen, and I eagerly accept.
Sunday evening and New York comes up trumps in the form of Lounge 47, a bar in Long Island I take myself to while Colin is trying (and so nearly succeeding) to get laid. I get chatting to the bar staff and clientele. Allie, who pours my pints turns, out to be a contemporary dancer and reminds me strongly of a significant ex – the same quiet intelligence and elegant poise. Caitlin (or ‘Sudsy’ as everyone seems to call her) is a sociologist. Allie’s boyfriend, Maurycy Banaszek joins us and turns out to be a charming and brilliant Viola player. The clients include Adrian, a videographer and one of the funniest men I’ve met in any city. It’s not that he cracks gags, he just talks like a good observational comic. “I still do a double take when I see Obama and I’m black, right? You know, it’s like seeing a woman cab driver. It’s not wrong, it’s just unusual”.
‘You should do stand-up,’ I suggest.
‘Too scary,’ he says.
‘That’s a reason to do it,’ I argue.
Another customer Roland, a local entrepreneur, is deeply interested in the book and we have a long chat about the interplay of government and society. “Congress should review the constitution every year as their first action,” he says. “It’d keep their minds on the big picture and keep our politics fresh.” It’s not a bad idea in principle.
This is New York, where you can walk into a regular bar and find a dancer, a musician, a stand-up in waiting and conversation enough for a month. I have a brilliant evening with a bunch of strangers. Allie, ever the diligent barwoman, makes sure my glass never runs dry. By the time I leave Lounge 47 I doubt I could even count to 47.