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Sam Hawksmoor
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••• The International Writers Magazine: Hacktreks in USA

East Coast USA in the Fall
• Sam Hawksmoor

I hadn’t intended to be in the USA at all this year.  I had booked the Queen Mary 2 voyage as a bucket list thing on my way to my nieces wedding in Canada.  Quite a surprise to be refused a visa for Canada and of course there are no refunds on Cunard whatsoever.  So making the best of a bad job, I decided on a little holiday in Miami – a place I have visited a few times in my life and enjoy because of the autumn temperatures and the warm ocean.  It never disappoints. 

Photo: Essex House Art Deco - Miami

Essex House FLA

Travelling on the Queen Mary 2 is a very special experience and although I wouldn't recommend sleeping in a windowless inboard room, nevertheless there is so much to do you don't spend too much time there. I was lucky that the National Symphony Orchestra was aboard and some amusing, somewhat jingoistic concerts were well attended. A very friendly way to travel and I met some extraordinary people. Captain Wells I suspect is a workaholic - he never seems to leave the ship. On the voyage out the weather was good enough to walk the decks and twice around is a mile. I also met some of the dog owners spending time with their animals. (21 dogs on board going out). Everyone was very friendly and the staff helpful. I had wanted to see the stars at night but discovered the great Atlantic secret. The sky, the ocean, is endlessly grey and not one other ship was sighted in seven days at sea or whales. Not one star did I see either. How did ancient mariners use the stars to navigate the North Atlantic if they never appeared?

It was also interesting to arrive in the USA during the mid-terms and what with pipe bombs being delivered to enemies of the President and shootings in Pittsburg – it was intense times.  I missed seeing Obama in Wynwood Walls by a day - but caught his speech in support of the Democratic candidates and was shocked to be reminded of how wonderful it is watch a lucid, coherent, intelligent man speak, by contrast to the current incumbent of the White House.  I also discovered Rachel Maddows on MSNBC and wished we had someone like her in the UK to explain politics here in such a rational manner with wit and wisdom to boot.

Swimming in the warm ocean (surrounded by fish that leap over you) is a perfect solution for people with fibromyalgia – it all still hurts, but you sense it must be doing you some good. That and the 30c temperature most days.  I walked miles, reacquainted myself with the art deco buildings and wished my hotel hadn’t fibbed about being art deco.  It was only three blocks from the beach however, but I wouldn’t recommend the St Augustine hotel to anyone – ever. The free buses are a bonus for getting around however. The driver's helpful.

Delano Leslie Hotel South Beach
Delano Hotel/ Leslie Hotel/ & South Beach sunset

You always get the ‘isn’t Miami full of old people’ thing from people you tell you’ve been there and they couldn’t be more wrong.  It’s young and vibrant and noisy, it’s clean and friendly and South Beach takes great pride in its tourist industry.  (Although if you look carefully there are a many homeless people bedding down on empty apartment balconies at night wherever they can get access.  If I had to be homeless ever – Florida would make sense to me.
I witnessed one homeless guy stripped naked, happily soaping himself down in public in one of the open showers in the park, with tourists walking by just slightly astonished.)

Downtown Miami is less attractive – although they are building like crazy there – so business must be good.  I particularly liked walking to Little Havana and the Design District where all that is new and fashionable is on sale.  If you ever wondered where all the Ferraris are sold in the world – Miami is where they all end up.  Which is odd since you can only drive at 25 mph in most places.  I saw one guy drive his straight into a palm tree on Collins.  No one hurt but the car a total write-off.  Strictly Posers – there’s an idea for a TV show right?

The beach is off limits after 10pm, but on my last night I went to the ocean to watch a spectacular show of lightning against the backdrop of low clouds.  Got drenched but it was worth it.

Wynwood Walls Miami

Wynwood Walls - Miami
South Beach is pretty developed, but I have memories of a dog track being where the luxury high rise Continuum is now. There are big restaurants (Joe's Stone Crab), even a plant based one - Planta - ($50 bucks for a small vegan burger and tiny glass of wine) but I liked the little Italian place Rossella at 110 Washington Ave run by Rossella Ansaldi where they serve a perfect Italian veggie meal is you ask and some excellent wine and conversation.

Lincoln Road is where everyone shops and I was lucky to be there when the side streets were closed for the antique market full of eclectic objects and of course Halloween where the police presence was huge and the music deafening. Coffee and cake is best at Paul's. (Yes the same one as in France and London).
Deisgn District Car Park Miami Contemporary Art Gallery
Miami Design District 2018 (The exterior of the car park is sometimes more interesting than the art inside).
Wynwood Walls
Wynwood Walls - Miami
Wynwood Walls
South Beach South Beach Inlet where the Cruise Ships leave port and Miami City glows in the background. Great for late night stroll.

I left Miami for New York and then to the University of Bridgeport. My host was the amazing dean of mathematics, Allen Cook and I talked to Creative Writing students there. Time was too short as I'd have liked to have been able to read what they were producing, but I did appreciate visiting Connecticut in the fall and meeting the teaching staff (both the wonderful writer Eric Lehman and the dean are contributors to Hackwriters) and seem very productive. Being in Bethel on election day was special too.

Central Park 2018 I went walkabout in Central Park on a beautiful Fall day. And I didn't have to worry about keeping up my steps as I think I did 9 miles that day and hit the Hi-Line with Mary Johnson (a friend made on the Queen Mary 2). The Hi-Line is the elevated park on the old rail tracks between 14th (Where the Whitney Gallery currently has a Wharhol retrospective) and 34th Penn Station. We then went to see Dexter (Michael Hall) in Thom Pain (a one man show that everyone is talking about). The audience seemed impressed.

I was lodging at my niece's apartment on the 56th floor (don't look down) with an amazing view of the Hudson River.
Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan 1890's - Battery Park as was.

Times Square seems scruffy to me now. Semi-pedestrianised - it's half hearted at best - nevertheless Manhattan is constantly redeveloping and investing in new buildings which shows a great confidence in itself and it's future. I didn't try ice skating in Bryant Park but it looked fun.

NY Bookshop

Later I ended up in NoHo with my niece Emma looking for a book to read for my return journey. Of course I ended up with Haruki Murakami's latest Killing Commendatore, of which at least half the pages concern an artist preparing meals or contemplating a painting. Wish I could get away with that - but I enjoyed it anyway. Be easier to buy the books if they weren't stuck up on the ceiling though
Bryant park NY
My memories of US cities are the wonderful delis and the newspaper stands and the urgency of getting to read the early papers.  To my suprise finding anyone who sells newspapers at all is a hard job – let alone anyone who reads one.  When I got to Manhattan I had to hunt street after street to find a place that sold the NY Times.  They don’t even sell it in the newspaper offices!  How they make any money I have no idea.  I read the NY Times in Miami and Manhattan and the quality of the paper really is light years ahead of UK papers. There’s actually long deep-sourced articles to read and the Sunday edition still takes three days to get through it all.  But who would be as determined as I to go find any place that sells it?  A tradition that is fast disappearing I fear.  Yes of course you can read it on your phone or iPad but it really isn’t the same experience. (Although a lot lighter).

Photo: Bryant Park N Y
Walking Manhattan is always fun.  I covered miles in the canyons trying to see how much had changed since I was last there twenty years ago.  The new pencil slim high-rises look slightly weird to my eye – the European coffee shops an improvement on what was there before.  Le Pain Quotidien for example.  They’re restoring the roads near the Whitney to stone, adding back the character that used to be there before and so many of the ex-industrial buildings are being restored with care and imagination.  It’s good to see – even though shopping with pounds is a crushing feeling. And will only get worse as Brexit chaos continues.

Photo: The Hi-Line Manhattan
Hi-Line NY

In a dizzying few days I randomly met people from all walks of life and then caught the Cunard home where I managed to catch bronchitis on the last day.  I really thought after the swimming and walking and sunshine I would be strong enough to be immune, but I guess not.  But was glad to have gone, though it all will rapidly fade into the background as real life takes over.  Pity about missing my niece’s wedding though.

I wonder if I’ll get there again before another 20 years goes by.

© Sam Hawksmoor Dec 2018
author of Girl with Cat (Blue)
Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest Book Awards 2018 - 'An Amazing Book. I couldn't put it down.'

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