New York. I’ve braved the slush and the biting wind to stroll down Broadway and to watch people skiing and snowboarding in Central Park. Having returned to my hotel and removed a couple of layers of clothing, I’m sitting in the bar downstairs and chatting with a Norwegian man who speaks impeccable English. He tells me he’s in New York as a consultant for planned repairs to the Statue of Liberty. The copper used originally came from a French-owned mine in Norway and he was here to negotiate both the requirements and the price of re-cladding the statue with copper from the original source.
Some years later I tell this story to an American friend who expresses deep skepticism about the veracity of the Norwegian man’s claims. Somewhat miffed, I consult the Great God Google and discover that I have been had, mightily. Yes, the original copper came from a French mine in Norway but that’s where veracity ended. There was no restoration work being planned or underway at that time (2006), the last major re-fit was in 1986 and the copper mine in question closed in 1972.
I’ve often pondered why someone would bother making up such a story. He wasn’t trying to sell shares in his company or anything else. Maybe he wasn’t even Norwegian in origin. Who knows?
Anyway, can I interest you in some shares in the Sydney Harbour Bridge? See, I’ve met this guy ….
Toronto. I’m in the city the locals insist is pronounced Tronno. My hosts have warned me to buy a coat suited to snow conditions, as well as earmuffs and heavy boots. I already have a heavy coat but meet them halfway by buying a thick scarf and a beanie. On arrival my hosts take me out to lunch on a glorious sunny day that almost deceives me into thinking that the temperature of minus 15 is bearable. We enter a smart café and there is an instant rise of 40 degrees, necessitating much disrobing and then re-robing when we leave. (Canadians must spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in this activity.)
That evening they pick me up in a car and take me to a nearby restaurant that serves fabulous Thai food. Weariness makes me decide to call time early and I insist on my hosts staying to enjoy themselves. After all, it’s only 3 blocks to my hotel. By now it is minus 25 and the wind is howling. After block 1, I can no longer feels my hands inside my inadequate gloves. After block 2, I feel like if I touch my ears or my beard they will break off.
Half-way along block 3, I fear I won’t make it because my feet have turned into solid ice and are reluctant to propel me any further. Cursing my miserliness re the boots, only the thought of not wanting to die just yet keeps me going. Somehow I make it into the hotel and slump in an armchair, waiting from something approximating feeling to return to my feet so I can make it across the lobby to the lifts.
While I wait, I observe a gaggle of business people at the hotel desk, yelling at the hapless desk clerk because the hotel wi-fi has gone down. It seems that it is their collective view that if they do not have contact with the outside world immediately, the universe is likely to collapse. Given that this is a three-star hotel I find this extremely unlikely but the sight of their performance restores my circulation and I head to my room.
San Francisco. I am trying to woo a senior representative of a US nonprofit into a partnership with my own organisation in Australia. I meet him in the lobby of my hotel and we head out to his car. This is my first day ever in the US and I automatically head for what would be the passenger seat back home. He says tersely that he thinks he might drive. Good one. Make a goose of yourself before the meeting even starts.
He takes me to a bar, where the only other customers are a rowdy but harmless bunch of twenty-somethings watching a college basketball game. After the usual pleasantries, I commence my pitch, extolling the virtues of my organisation and explaining what a serendipitous match we would make into the future. My early instincts are that this is not going well and 10 minutes in my host’s eye-glazing has commenced in earnest. I struggle on manfully for another 5 minutes and then switch the topic to families, San Francisco, anything to allow a civilised gradual exit from this catastrophe.
On the way back, my host proudly points out the Coit Tower. The build-up of internal tension causes me to burst into inappropriate laughter. He looks at me in the way normally reserved for when you are being careful around someone who is obviously a madman. I tell him that in Australia, ‘coit’ is a crude euphemism for the anus. His look confirms that a relationship will occur over his dead body. He drops me at my hotel and the car door is barely shut before he roars off down the driveway.