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New York, Dec 19-23

Written on: Sunday December 23rd, 2007

A journal entry from: travels in the USA

New York, Dec 19-23
The flight from Las Vegas to New York is only about 90 min shorter than the flight from New York to London - 4.5 hours. It's a big country. The time difference between Vegas and NY is 3 hours. Early on we flew over the Rocky Mountains for what seemed like a looong time.
They had snow here in NY earlier in the week, there's a few left-overs still on the streets. Finally, I know why I brought my gloves, hat, and woolly trousers that felt so out of place in California.
After Las Vegas I thought I had seen all the lights in the world, but Broadway and Times Square, 7th and 5th Avenues trump even Vegas. Enhanced by the steam/water vapours coming out of the street drains here - I don't know what that's all about but it's very atmospheric.
I'm staying only round the corner, in a home-stay with a nice eldery gentleman called Jim. Hotels in NY are prohibitively expensive, but Jim's making me feel very welcome - it's like a boutique hotel in his posh flat, including breakfast served on what I'm sure is his best china. I have my own bathroom too and am walking distance from Broadway, where I had dinner, next door to where they tape the Late Show with David Letterman. Except it's not taping at all as the TV and movie writers are still on strike. The Broadway shows are all still running though.
When people cross the street in LA they do that German thing where they wait for the green light before they cross even if there's no car coming. Here in New York people cross the street not just with the red light still showing but they even step off the curb with the traffic still flowing. Everybody's in a hurry and takes no notice of anybody else. Having said that, I was expecting New Yorkers to be rude and unhelpful and thinking, here I'll really have to fend for myself. However, that is not at all the case. People are very happy to help and give information and directions. So far I found everyone real friendly. Quirky - people here are so individualistic - but friendly.
Shops stay open real late due to the season - Macy's is open 24 hours on the 22nd and 23rd Dec. Time Square at 10.30 pm on Saturday night was as crowded as Oxford Street on a Friday afternoon before Christmas.
Apart from shopping Americans also love coffee. This is not just NY, it was the same in LA, everyone drives one-handed because the other holds a large macchiato. Here they don't drive so much, they walk or take yellow cabs, but the density of Starbucks per square foot must be higher than anywhere else on earth. There are 4 alone in the Macy's department store. New York is all about density, of course, and the lack of space, hence the necessity to go upwards. Quite the opposite to LA where everything is too far spread out and distances are completely unwalkable. Here you walk and bump into people and say "excuse me" (not "sorry") because you're looking up all the time.There are so many immigrants that you this is the way to tell if somone is from here or not. New Yorkers come in all shades and colours but they don't look up anymore.
Food is very good and very easy in NY: everywhere there are these deli "cafes" with long counters, often self-serving, of warm food, soups, salads, sweets, and drinks (the range of fruit juices alone is dazzling/confusing). All good quality and very reasonably priced. Of course there are also a zillion restaurants, I think 13,000 in Manhattan alone.
Went to see Ground Zero - the taxi driver initially didn't actually know what I meant until I said World Trade Centre... It looked like a big building site, but nothing extraordinary.
However, the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art located in Central Park - the latter is not looking that brilliant this time of year) is a truly great museum. OK, not quite on a par with the Louvre or anything but truly amazing. I went to see the Impressionists and so many of those famous paintings that you always see in books and postcards are here. They have a large study of Monet's Bridge over Waterlilies' Pond or whatever it's called, that must be the most famous impressionistic painting ever; and they also have his Westminster Palace, that very dusky, misty, athmospheric sunrise which is one of my all-time favourites. And so much more, I couldn't believe my eyes. Each room I felt like saying, "Oh, c'mon!" because somehow I felt they stole those European paintings... they should be in their country of origin! But on that principle the British Museum would be empty, of course... They also have 5 Vanmeers (out of only 35 in the world), of which I saw 3, simply breathtaking. My heart was flowing over. Art is so close to spirituality in that it can inspire you to open up and see beyond the ordinary; it can also connect us to a truth that is both personal and universal, just like spiritual practice.
Last night I heard and saw His Holiness talk about the meaning of art at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art. He talked about how the old spiritual masters a few centuries ago would be able to paint an intricate picture that would normally take weeks or even months in just a day, and without ever having been trained as artists, as this simply came from their deep inspiration - their practice and deep meditation. They depicted realms, other great masters and truths they had seen in their practice and spontaneously conveyed this in paintings. Holiness also hinted at having painted a few tankhas himself in this manner when he was young... of course he never elaborates on these things as he's far too humble. Nowadays, Tibetan Buddhist paintings are supposed to inspire you to practice and show you the reality state of your emotions - all of our afflictive emotions like anger, lust, jealousy are depicted just as much as love, compassion, skillful action. If you know how to look at them they can convey the teachings of how to transform the negative emotions into wisdom, as this is their ultimate nature. These paintings should definitely not just be seen as decoration.