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Carnegie Hall is like being inside an enormous Faberge egg.

Into the maelstrom

I felt like the last carriage of a train lumbering along behind our two striding American friends as we began our first money-shedding journey into the bowels of New York. Michelle had pre-purchased New York Passes and all we had to do was go to an address in the city to pick them up. Easy? No. It involved going to a shop where we had to wait in a huge queue to take delivery of a pass to get into another huge queue for the hop-on hop-off bus. With no busses forthcoming as the queue grew backwards around the corner we abandoned the wait for a hop and instead opted for a hoof to Carnegie Hall.

We were just in time for a tour of this famous landmark, now more than 120 years old and host to some of the best musicians the world has produced. With 2804 seats over four tiers, it is simply breathtaking. Our former prison officer Russian-accented female guide claimed that Carnegie Hall (built by Andrew Carnegie and now owned by the City of New York) had the best acoustics in the world. We plan to go to a concert there to test it, but I don’t doubt her claim. The space is enormous, open and curved – like being inside a Faberge egg. The only sound absorbing surface would be the audience. The prison officer (I assumed this from her fearsome orders) told us that the hall had been saved from demolition in the 1960s by violinist Isaac Stern who put together a saviour deal the day before a developer had booked the bulldozers to move in. I imagined that Isaac would have been be a serious faced, gaunt fiddler, but a picture of him in the hall museum shows him to be Billy Bunter fat with jolly, laughing jowls. The officer waxed lyrical about Andrew Carnegie, the poor Scottish lad who made good in America by getting into steel at the right time. He built libraries and public places all over the world, she said. A thoroughly good fellow indeed. I theorised that he may have sailed to Melbourne in the early days and built the suburb of Carnegie, near where I grew up, although upon reflection I doubt it. I think that was named after Dale Carnegie who could Win Friends and Influence People.

We finally hopped on to the bus in Columbus Circle and it took us on an uptown tour of this remarkable city that is more like several little countries joined together with a park in the middle. You no longer need a black belt in Karate to walk through Harlem. Residences of the rich and famous are conveniently placed along the route. And always there is the presence of Central Park, like a giant rectangular heart, where lots of people go to do lots of leisurely, lifestyle stuff. From my elevated, moving view of Central Park, its main features were its rock formations of schist, and you have to be careful saying that. If you utter the expletive bullschist! you can be misunderstood. I’m sure I will change my schisty view of the park when we venture into its verdant interior.

Our friend Pete has been giving me lessons in tipping. Even though I read the book ’Tipping for Dummies’ I still needed further tuition. Twenty percent is the standard tip and, as Pete tells me, you tip everybody for everything. You even tip the tipee for extend his hand to accept your tip. You tip the man who hails you a cab, or opens a door, or even glances at you. If a hotel desk clerk coughs, you tip him. If a sales assistant in a department store breaks wind, you tip her.

Last night we went to dinner at the Carlyle, invoking a tipping frenzy. I was almost broke before we sat down to an okay fine dining experience with entertainment from a gushing young blonde vocalist and a facially emotional, misunderstood accompanist. She sang standard talent quest songs – probably in celebration of having won many talent quests and now, at the nearly retirement age of 17 was doing the clubs. Woody Allen plays bad jazz clarinet at this club but this was not his night. Pity.

I got into a bit of trouble at The Carlyle and may not be welcome back – although we won’t be returning. At the end of a staggeringly expensive meal I was well fueled with martini and wine and suffering credit card anxiety. The crowd was either moving out or fawning over the forgettable singer when Michelle told me to sit on the piano stool for a picture. Thus positioned on the small stage before the Yamaha keys, Michelle then ordered me to play the piano – about the worst taste thing you can do after a show. But I did. I slipped into a bit of Gershwin, whereupon the management went berserk and pointed me to the door. I suppose I should have tipped them for throwing me out but I found myself in the street tipping the doorman who open the cab door for us instead.