Incidental New Yorker XII

December 22, 2015

Winter solstice in NYC and 22 degrees Celsius/72F! I am so glad that we, the world’s population, have just pledged to truly care for the climate. And I am eagerly anticipating governments delivering on their pledges in Paris earlier this month.

🎄Last week I spent a wonderful day and a half in Washington DC, in very good company. We were three cousins who had seen very little of one another since one emigrated to the US 30 years ago. Our “American” cousin suggested that we visit the white House to see the Christmas decorations, a fun and delightful surprise.

Room after room filled with Christmas trees and decorations. I had my photo taken along toy versions of the presidential dogs, Bo and Sunny, and a portrait of JFK. Most interesting were the many portraits of former presidents, and the occasional wife. And the huge dinner table where both Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy lay in state. A young man – who happened to be an acquaintance of my cousin – played Christmas carols in the hall on a gigantic grand piano that was made of oak or other light wood. Outside there were lots of happy penguins and snowmen, braving the weather, warm as a spring day. The sun shone from a clear blue sky. Spring cherry blossoms actually blossomed! 🌸🌸🌸 We also visited the relatively new Newseum, an interesting and interactive affair on news since 1500; most of it much later though, as not surprisingly the general perspective was American. For me, it was particularly interesting to experience issues that I have covered myself, for instance Vietnam and the 1989 uprising in Beijing. There were thousands of digitalised newspaper front pages, and one could easily spend a few days there, which is why the ticket lasts for two days … Not everything was serious; for example I much enjoyed the series of presidential dogs. I mean, I had no idea that JFK was allergic to dogs – and that never the less the family had 10 dogs. Even if our stay was brief and we only saw a tiny fragment of the capital, it was a pleasant break from towering NYC. Lots of space and light, imposing architecture, broad straight boulevards, designed for fast motorcades (or even tanks?), and from the hill at Arlington Cemetery one could see Pentagon, which all contributed to the impression of a city designed to rule and to dwarf people and make them feel small in the shadow of government. Here and there buildings seemed to be crowd funded, each happy donor celebrated with a brick bearing her or his name – much like the adopted bits of highway where one can decide the name of a mile or so in return for keeping it clean. Both the living and the dead are honoured thus along the highways, even in NYC where parts of the FDR Highway are adopted, rather than being kept by the municipality.

💰💰💰Even if temperatures hover high this December in NYC, ‘tis the season for charity – and thus for lavish events in the name of good. People show up in what I presume is their best; men sporting designer dinner jackets with ruby and diamond buttons and cufflinks, women in scanty but expensive dresses, loaded with jewellery; no such thing as discreetly showing off your wealth here. The ample dinners are hard on the climate, and left overs alone might feed a small army of hungry (might I here remind you of the terrific and very delicious lunch the UN Secretary General served at a major meeting on climate change: all four courses were made from scraps and left overs that would normally have been discarded. The menu reminded participants that the world already produces enough food for 10 billion people). Then follow the auctions over luxury trips to the Caribbean, Antarctica, Europe; or lotteries where you can win a car, several trips and more. Wealthy men place their bids at the auction, and there’s no going back. Pretty young women hover about with contracts, taking down credit card numbers and demanding signatures. Women applaud their extravagant husbands … I can’t help but think how much money could have been spent on good deeds if we skipped the parties, the food, the luxurious venues, and simply handed over the money to a good cause. But then, too, you’d have skipped the fun, rubbing shoulders with one another and the odd celebrity, the party, the sense of charity and showing off the latest trophy – be it a date, a dress or jewellery …

💵 Christmas is also the time for topping up other peoples’ salaries, an established custom in this city of underpaid employees. The administration of our building has written a long and complicated letter with the names and pictures of all employees, their particular responsibility and length of employment, encouraging us to show our “gratitude” for their doing their jobs – in envelopes with the name of recipient and happy provider. But as I have stated earlier, to us this custom is nothing short of outrageous – and we find it incredibly humiliating for the recipients – that employers don’t pay their employees decent salaries and instead leave it to customers, clients, tenants or whomever, to try to remedy this deficit. Our first inclination was to give everyone exactly the same, but asking around we were told that we have to grade our gratuity, and not give the same amount to everyone, but according to our sympathy! In one prime address close to Central Park staff threw verbal abuse at newly arrived European tenants for not having understood the system and under tipped, threatening them with all sorts of extra fees and other nasty consequences in the coming year. I happily tip to show my appreciation for special care or service. But I truly wish that employers and employees would agree on decent salaries so that one is presented with the actual price of whatever service is rendered, and not all these hidden extra fees that force the people at the receiving end to try and ingratiate themselves. Also, we figured out that if each tenant in our building pays, say 50 dollars, to each staff member, each one of them will receive 20.000+ for Christmas. But then, as I have no idea what their monthly salary is, I don’t know how much topping up they need.

💃🏽 On the bus the other day a sweet young woman was dressing up to go partying. She was beautiful, curvy, and not yet obese. She wore net stockings with huge meshes. While putting on her mascara she looked up at me with her big beautiful fawn-eyes and said “hello, Grandma.” This was a first. I better get used to it. Not that there’s anything wrong with being called grandma. It just felt very much like the first time someone in a department store addressed me Madam.

🙇🏽 Anyway, Bella can help! One of many offers in public transport: “Spiritual Healer and Advisor, gifted by God to help heal people.” A small slip of paper in the underground train, tucked in under one of the authorised advertisements, for anyone in need of help. “Bella guarantees to heal you in the name of God and will remove any and all curses put on you by jealous enemies. Call for an appointment today. Do not let the devil follow in your footsteps,” just dial a telephone number. Help is just a call away. I have kept Bella’s number in case New York gets the better of me, and I need counselling some day. And who wants the devil to follow in ones footsteps? Not I! And if Bella doesn’t deliver – try Fishie Fortune, the real fish psychic …

📺 TV time is when I pedal my phony bicycle in the belly of my building. I heard some analysis on US politics, and one commentator cleverly explained why some people are tired of Obama and really keen on 🌽 His Trumpness: “Obama is nuanced – not, like Trump, black & white.” Frankly, I don’t remember the TV station. But let me bring an example of Obama’s nuanced speak from Dec. 15, his welcome speech to new American citizens, lest we forget: “We don’t simply welcome new immigrants. We don’t simply welcome new arrivals, we are born of immigrants. That is who we are. Immigration is our origin story. For more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character. It’s our oldest tradition. It’s who we are. It’s part of what makes us exceptional. After all, unless your family is Native American, one of the first Americans, our families, all of our families, came from someplace else. The first refugees were the pilgrims themselves, fleeing religious persecution, crossing the stormy Atlantic to reach a new world where they might live and pray freely. How quickly we forget! One generation passes, two generations pass, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from. We can never say it often or loudly enough! Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.”

A happy lot: FLOTUS, PGA70, Mrs PGA70, and POTUS. Photo: © US Protocol

I take comfort in a president who states things clearly, speaks up to peoples’ hopes and aspiration and refuses to give in to populists and talk down to peoples’ fears. Of course, he’s not running for re-election, but he still is POTUS, and a great one at that! And I wish that in Denmark we could pride ourselves in great and visionary leadership as opposed to a minority government ruling on the tiniest of mandates and constantly talking down to people’s worst instincts, raising fear and xenophobia, acting against  the majority in parliament as well as against better judgement to ignore the consequences of climate change and more …

Season’s Greetings & Happy Holidays

The Obama White House Christmas Tree