Fulbright riffs, 1991 — day 85, Thursday August 22nd

Looking forward to Jayne’s arrival this afternoon. It’s the longest we’ve been apart since we were married. And it’s been a double break, given that we moved out of London to live in Chatham, Kent, just before I came out here. So Jayne already has a new sense of what home means, whereas I now have a re-doubled attachment to big city dwelling and am apprehensive about adapting to life in the provinces. These thoughts persist as I get the apartment ready for a return to married life, albeit on vacation.

Her flight gets in mid-afternoon, the same Virgin Atlantic flight from Gatwick that I arrived on twelve weeks ago, so there’s time for a couple more appointments with libraries.

The first is at 10 am with Doug Gibbons at the Museum of TV and Radio on 52nd Street. He can only spare me an hour, which is generous enough as the Museum is very busy getting ready for re-opening in October after changing its name from the Museum of Broadcasting. This is a very different kind of museum or library experience. The usual sober entrance to a hushed interior populated by a scattering of earnestly intent readers or wondering tourists has been supplanted by a bright visitor centre leading to experiences for the general public. [At The British Library we would soon be embarking on new strategies led by marketing and branding experts in a bid to change to a more inclusive institution that could be of service to businesses, collaborative endeavour and the general public as much as to academics on particular research missions. At the time I was skeptical about what I found here in 52nd Street — “show and tell librarianship”, I would write — but later on, long after my return, its lessons began to make sense. Visitor numbers, positive feedback and beneficial research outcomes were more certain to sustain government funding and attract sponsors than noble intentions about preserving everything to inform generations to come. What was wrong with better informing the present generation?

The Museum has since changed its name again, to The Paley Center for Media and has opened another branch in Los Angeles. Nomenclature and branding have been at the core of their strategy, as reported in the New York Times in 2007:
“Although the board agreed that the museum needed a new name, what to call it was the subject of heated debate. “‘Museum’ was not a word that tests really well with the under-30 and 40-year-olds,” especially in the context of radio and television, Ms. Mitchell [i.e. Pat Mitchell, President and CEO] said. Moreover, the name was somewhat misleading: some patrons would arrive expecting to see, say, Archie Bunker’s chair. In fact, until recently, museum goers had nothing that they could see, unless they wanted to watch a specific old program. As part of the continuing changes, the West 52nd Street space now offers a rotating display, which now features Middle Eastern media, including a live feed of Al Jazeera’s English television channel.

Most board members liked the idea of renaming the museum as a “center,” but with more than 100 international media centers scattered about, the concept seemed too generic until Mr. Paley’s name was added…Though many younger visitors no longer know who Mr. Paley was — he died in 1990 — “when we asked people, they didn’t care,” said Ms. Mitchell, who added that “they liked the story” of Mr. Paley’s innovations in radio and television. “They don’t know who Getty is either, or Whitney or Guggenheim,” she said, mentioning people whose names grace some of the country’s most prominent art museums. “Just having a name attached to it gives it a personality.” Elizabeth Jensen, New York Times June 5 2007].

On the way to re-establishing familiarity with customary presentations at the New York Public Library, I make another life-changing discovery — toasted bagels, this particular one being raisin and cinnamon. I spend about an hour at the Library, looking at their exhibition of literary manuscripts and consulting their periodicals index on CD-ROM, which includes a handful of jazz titles.

At the Port Authority bus terminal I pick up another set of prints from Wallgreens and once again there is a scene, though not involving me this time. A shoplifter is being escorted out under protest — “Get your filthy nigger hands off me”, which is ironic, because the shoplifter is also black. I take the bus out to Newark airport to meet Jayne.

She arrives on time looking bonny and tanned, so there is at least one advantage to having a garden out in the sticks! She plays the jazz accompanist part well, dressed in the Knitting Factory T-shirt I bought her last year after the Royal Festival Hall gig showcasing Knitting Factory acts, such as The Jazz Passengers and Myra Melford.

After the long flight it’s me who does most of the talking, excitedly pointing out various landmarks on the bus journey back into Manhattan, and yes, there is a gasp from her as the bus approaches the Lincoln Tunnel, offering a broadside view of one of the most beautiful, human-made constructions on the planet. She is also impressed by the East Village neighbourhood, adjusting her customary slow walking pace to the street rhythm.

Jayne is reluctant to do anything more strenuous than sleep off her jet lag but the weather is fine and calm for the first evening in ages and I persuade her that a better way to address jet lag is to accompany me to the top of the South Tower at the World Trade Center.

View East across to Brooklyn and Long Island from the South Tower

[The South Tower featured an indoor and outdoor public observation area called Top of the World Trade Center Observatories on its 107th and 110th floors. An improbably fast elevator went non-stop to the indoor observatory on floor 107 at a height of 1,310 feet (400 m). Weather permitting, visitors could take two short escalator rides up from the 107th floor viewing area to an outdoor viewing platform on the 110th floor at a height of 1,377 ft (420 m). On a clear day, visitors could see up to 50 miles. An anti-suicide fence was placed on the roof itself, with the viewing platform set back and elevated above it, requiring only an ordinary railing and leaving the view unobstructed.] Jayne prefers to stay at the indoor observatory while I take my camera aloft. There is a laser display from the roof of the North tower. Looking across to this, seemingly unguarded, in a surprisingly strong breeze, I start to feel vertigo and take very few shaky shots before making a hasty descent.

[In fact, although the view was spectacular, if anything it was too high to see anything in detail and I should have followed advice to got to the top of the Chrysler Building instead, in amongst the other skyscrapers. Even so, after admiring the Twin Towers from so many angles and distances during the trip it felt right to be making this visit to the top.

A favourite view, along with those across the Hudson from Hoboken Station that appeared earlier in this journal, was from Washington Square, at any time of day.

[Having become so well acquainted, I felt enormous sadness mixed with horror when they collapsed on September 11 2001.]

Jayne looks half asleep as we come out of the elevator at ground level and I refrain from suggesting calling in at a jazz club on the way back. So it’s back to the apartment at 1o for ratatouille and, for me, an early night.