As you pass the corner

As you pass the corner of 125th and Broadway you can’t help noticing one thing — the bridge. Overhead, silver subway trains rumble and clunk across the giant iron arc shooting out of the hillside and gently curving around before heading underground towards the Bronx. You might also notice the smell of fried chicken as it wafts out of the steaming takeaway on the corner.

The traffic lights turn and a battered brown van splutters into motion. On each side ‘Al Sharpton’ posters in red, white and blue. A loudhailer is tied to the roof of the cab with rope, the tattered ends flapping in the wind. A woman leans out of the window, the microphone for the loudhailer clasped to her mouth. “Black people, brown people — vote for one of your own”. Welcome to Harlem, New York.

I’ve barely had time to stop and catch my breath for the past few weeks and the blog has suffered. So I thought it was time to set that right. The explanation is that a couple of weeks ago I took a trip stateside going first to New York and then to South Carolina. Both were for conferences, NBIC Convergence 2004 and then Imaging and Imagining Nanotechnology. Most of the rest of the time I was working on the pamphlet I’m writing about disability but there was also chance to soak up a bit of America.

It was ‘super Tuesday’ while I was in town — the day when the democratic presidential hopeful is often decided. So on the Sunday beforehand I settled down to watch the TV debate between candidates, something I’d never seen before. Three journalists asked the questions of the four remaining candidates around an oval table with no live audience. I couldn’t quite believe how superficial it was but also how nasty and catty it was. Later that day I watched the Oscars. There were similarities.

Columbia, South Carolina could scarcely be more different to crazy New York. As you step off the little regional jet into the white airport, people waiting to leave are sitting patiently in rocking chairs. This is very much ‘the south’; the weather was great — about 25 degrees and the skies were often blue. Only when the wind got up did it make things feel a bit more British.

Then it was back on a red-eye flight and into the office for our Monday morning meeting. But you know what? I completely avoided jet lag. Maybe a bit of fuzzy thinking and feeling hungry at funny times but I somehow got away with it. I think it might have been reading this article in the New York Times magazine on the plane that helped (registration required). One of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve seen in a while.

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