New York Stories

David Usborne visits an arts festival at which Welsh choirs and revolutionary bras represent 'the new Britain'
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The Independent US

Over the past two weeks, there has been a choice of about 200 events and happenings associated with a two-week British arts and cultural festival here in New York called UKwithNY, all meant to reflect cutting-edge Britain in the new millennium.

Over the past two weeks, there has been a choice of about 200 events and happenings associated with a two-week British arts and cultural festival here in New York called UKwithNY, all meant to reflect cutting-edge Britain in the new millennium.

And which one did this expatriate end up attending? A performance by Swansea's own Morriston Orpheus Welsh male voice choir.

An evening less modern would be hard to imagine. I make no complaint about the music, though Parry hymns do not feature large in my CD collection. But I did come away worrying for this choir. Unless new blood is brought in soon, its 60-odd voices may quickly be reduced to about six. There was a clear whiff of Steradent in the air.

I went as a guest of a New York friend who happens to be Welsh. There was a fine spirit inside, with Welsh flags draped over the balconies. A British arts minister was somewhere in the stalls, and the night ended with five standing ovations.

Most touching (or embarrassing, possibly) was the moment during the pre-concert reception when someone presented the city with money collected throughout Swansea for the victims of 11 September. It came to a grand total of £100.

Nobody is quite sure what impact the festival itself has had. It closes today. Philip Warner, the chairman of UKwithNY, admitted during our evening that the programme might have been a bit too "scattershot". Its only real anchor was an exhibition of British innovation at Grand Central. It had among its exhibits a new kind of bra without the metal bits (designed by a male) and a spring-loaded laundry basket.

Some events were evidently packed, such as a forum on news reporting chaired by Harry Evans. Others less so; indeed, Carnegie Hall was barely half full. The Duke of York was around for the first two days of the festival. He went to a performance of scenes from Shakespeare plays involving teenagers from Britain and the US and, sitting in the front row, fell fast asleep. And it was only lunchtime.

 

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Moshe, like most New Yorkers, is still feeling winded by the events of 11 September. The owner of a towing business, he donated his time and all four of his trucks in the immediate aftermath of the attack to help to remove damaged and half-buried cars.

He and his guys took 700 cars out of the World Trade Centre neighbourhood in a week before getting back to normal work. Except it isn't normal. He is hurting economically, like everyone, and recently sold three of the trucks. So now it is just him doing the work.

An Israeli who came to New York 15 years ago, Moshe started to diversify last year, buying apartments and renting them out. Even that is not going well, though: a midtown apartment that used to rent for $3,000 (£2,200) a month has come empty. He is advertising it now for $2,500.

Still, he made money off me – $100 for towing my car 40 blocks to the dealer so that I could get a new key, the fancy computer-chip kind. I lost mine on Monday night.

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