Too wrapped in our own importance

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The Independent Online

What's wrong with living in New York? We learned last week that the inflation rate in the city is triple the national average.

What's wrong with living in New York? We learned last week that the inflation rate in the city is triple the national average. We already knew that for the money we spend on our rabbit-hutch apartments we could afford mini-mansions anywhere else in the land. The snow, falling as I write, turns grey and ghastly the second it touches ground. In the summer, the heat and humidity turns any windpipe into a strangled straw.

I could go on - the traffic, the crazies, the noise, the yellow-teethed rats and the filth in the street gutters. Yet, here we are and here most of us hope to stay. If we sometimes struggle to rationalise our collective madness, we need only tune into the rhetoric of our mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to be reminded of one, undisputable truth: it is simply the greatest city in the world and don't you forget it.

Recently, I have started to wonder if Gotham is protesting too much. In February alone, New York has blown enough hot air about its virtues to melt both polar ice caps - a calamity, which, by the way, would leave most of Manhattan under water. If we're so fabulous why do we need to keep saying so?

Enough already about Christo and his so-called Gates. Central Park is quite impressive enough, even in barren shades of winter brown, without being festooned in 7,500 giant tea-cloths in a sickly shade of orange - pardon, saffron. The display, ballyhooed as the art installation of the decade, looks to me like some Hare Krishna Martian colony has scoured the galaxy for a convenient spot to hang laundry.

Mr Bloomberg had barely got over the excitement of The Gates when he found himself tied up 24/7 trying to impress members of the International Olympic Committee. The message was predictable: why would you even consider such inferior capitals as London, Paris, Madrid or Moscow when we are offering New York for the 2012 Olympic Games? What's the dilemma?

No stop was left unpulled for the Olympic folk. One of our drawbacks is that we don't have any royals to trot out or palaces to entertain in. The Mayor's mansion was a poor substitute for Buck House, where the same officials found themselves during their earlier London stop. But we do have faux royalty. That's why the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Simon and Meryl Streep were all invited for dinner at the Mayor's too, along with, yes, Christo. (Martha Stewart is not out of clink until later this week.)

Clearly, there was a whiff of desperation in the city's presentation. Treats included fireworks on Wednesday night over Columbus Circle, following a jazz concert and reception at the Lincoln Center. There were suites for everyone at the Plaza Hotel and a video message from President Bush. The whole city was plastered with adverts for the 2012 bid.

Behind all this was the dog's breakfast that Bloomberg has made of efforts to build a principal venue for the games. The harder he has pushed for a new stadium over the desolate train yards on the West Side of Manhattan the more vigorous his opponents have become in blocking it. The stand-off means that, for now, the New York bid is a train-wreck and the IOC must surely know it.

In the midst of all this activity, the Mayor still had time to launch his most startling wheeze - to turn the whole city into a global brand. He has hired a chief marketing officer, Joseph Perello, to take possession of any image considered a symbol of Gotham and to flog the rights to use it for big money. Want to put the fire department initials FDNY on your knickers? Now you will have to pay for the privilege. Trust a business-tycoon-turned-politician to see a Statue of Liberty snow-globe and think "intellectual property".

It gets even dafter than that. On Bloomberg's orders, Perello has just filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office - number 78484751 - for the exclusive usage of two new slogans for the city. ("Big Apple" and "The City That Never Sleeps" are, apparently, insufficient.) Here they are: "Made in NY" and "The World's Second Home". I guess they were afraid that some other metropolis - say Bishop's Stortford, or Baghdad - might have thought of them first.

I have an alternative. "New York City - Big Apple, Bigger Mouth". Maybe it's time to let Gotham's qualities speak for themselves without the marketing. And getting rid of the rats might help.

To thine own Self be true

Occasionally I'm reminded that New York has its old-school clubs with 10-year waiting lists and bodies of deceased members mouldering in airing cupboards just like London does. There is the University Club, the Athletic, the Sky, the Lotos and so forth. I rarely penetrate any of them.

I spent this evening at Lotos to celebrate the American launch of Jonathan Self's gripping memoir, Self Abuse. I knew Jonathan years ago - I oversaw the laying of a wood floor in a North London flat he owned in the early Eighties. I never pegged him for a club sort. Apparently, the Reform, where he belongs, has some kind of arrangement with the Lotos where the event was. He could have warned me I was meant to wear a tie.

Jonathan is forgiven because the book is entirely gripping. Self is not a household name here, but I will do what I can to spread the word about Self Abuse. It's not reality TV, but reality literature may be a fair description.