David Usborne: Our Man in New York

It's not only where you live that counts, but where you go to get away from it all
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The Independent Online

The desperate call from Veronika came on Thursday afternoon, during office hours, no less. Veronika is normally prim about personal phone use in the office - it is not allowed. She never picks up if we phone her at work. But if she wants something badly enough from us she will happily break her own rule. And this was a crisis; it had to do with the weekend. Where, she demanded to know, were we going?

The desperate call from Veronika came on Thursday afternoon, during office hours, no less. Veronika is normally prim about personal phone use in the office - it is not allowed. She never picks up if we phone her at work. But if she wants something badly enough from us she will happily break her own rule. And this was a crisis; it had to do with the weekend. Where, she demanded to know, were we going?

They say that in New York you are where you live. No personal statistic is more important in the Manhattan social game than the square footage of your apartment and how much you pay for it. But in the 12 weeks that constitute the American summer - between Memorial Day at the end of May and Labor Day at the start of September - a new formula takes over. You are where you weekend.

You don't count as a person if come 6pm Friday you are not plunging into the weekly exodus from the city. Never mind that the traffic will be hell whichever direction you take - bugger the Olympic Games and the proposed West Side Stadium that Mayor Bloomberg wants so badly, give us another tunnel or bridge to ease our way in and out of this clogged little island. Nor does anyone seem to care that Manhattan is at its best during summer weekends, precisely because almost everyone else flees the place.

Nothing scores more points than weekending in the Hamptons, the collection of manicured towns among hedgerows and potato fields at the far end of Long Island that remain the summer destination of choice of Wall Streeters, Upper East socialites, models, velvet-rope wannabes and anyone else who can cope with its sky-high rents and snooty airs. (Where else in the world could command rents of $993,000 for a single house for the 12 weeks of summer? It is in East Hampton, by the way, and is still available.)

All of which explained Veronika's state of agitation. She knew perfectly well that going away this weekend was entirely inconvenient for us. She also knew the weather forecast was lousy. And anyway, she already has her season worked out with a summer share with friends in a house on Fire Island, just off Long Island's southern shore, if only for four weekends out of the 12.

It wasn't just that this was not one of Veronika's Fire Island weekends and that she therefore faced the humiliating prospect of having to stay in town. Matters were far more serious: our mutual friend, Carlos, who does have a beach house in Southampton for the summer, had just revealed that this weekend he would not be using it. It was available for our enjoyment. Here was an opportunity to feign Hamptons credentials; we had to take instant advantage. Didn't we?

Social climes

Well, we may. But we may not. I appreciate Carlos' generosity, but my excitement is tempered by several factors. Here is how the weekend will go: get there late and traffic-crazed, drink far too much (on the patio in the rain), wake up in the morning to an empty refrigerator, spend rest of day in additional traffic jam to crowded King Kullen supermarket, return to set up grill (still in the rain), drink far too much, wake up next morning to tidy up house (must be spotless) before hitting expressway back home.

Plus, Hamptons visiting always leaves me feeling vaguely unsettled. Two days in its rarefied climes should leave me with at least a veneer of social glamour. Who knows we could even stumble upon one of those parties the New York gossip pages gush about every Monday morning - you know, on the beach at Calvin's estate. But any aura of acquired sophistication would fade fast, like a fake tan.

Which is why I am comfortable (almost) revealing that we too have a share for the summer of 2005 that is, well, not quite of the Hamptons variety. Like Veronika, we have it for four weekends. As it should be, it is a long drive, mostly in awful traffic. To reserve it, you must make arrangements months in advance. The air is cooler there than in Manhattan. Actually, some nights it is downright freezing.

I am talking about site 23, by the creek, in a camp site in the Everlasting Mountains of Pennsylvania. And the nylon tent - one room, no pool - cost me roughly $50 several years ago. We won't be bumping into Klein, Hilton, Hilfiger or anyone else up there, but we, and the pug, love it.

Trouble in paradise

I was pleasantly surprised when I turned up one recent evening to a fest of free booze and nibbles beneath the trendy Maritime Hotel to celebrate the inauguration of non-stop air service between New York and Tahiti. Not exactly the high point in New York's cultural calendar, you would think, but I was wondering if maybe, just maybe, Air Tahiti Nui would be a raffling some free tickets to paradise.

They weren't. But culture there was. For two hours, the cream, I assume, of Tahiti's native performers took to the stage to show off the region's musical and dance heritage, which they share largely with the Maori aboriginals of New Zealand.

But not everyone was impressed. The party's organisers later confided to me that they had received numerous complaints. These uptight New Yorkers had apparently been offended by the colonial overtones of the evening. Too many Tahitian warriors performing tribal songs in traditional grass skirts and such. These people need to learn how to relax and enjoy themselves. They need to go camping.

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