I've visited New York a number of times in the past and as an Arab, I always get a lot of hassle upon arrival at the airport. Since the tragedy of September 11, I find myself being sent to a separate office for further questioning. The eventual outcome is always the same and after answering their questions honestly, they stamp my passport and wish me a pleasant stay. My cousin Fahad has a flat on Marine Avenue, Brooklyn. The area is known as Bay Ridge and the nearest subway station to his flat is the last one on the line, at the very bottom of Brooklyn. The flat is located just several blocks away from the grand Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, a double decked suspension bridge that connects the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn.
There isn't much to do in Bay Ridge apart from play tennis and go to restaurants - so that evening, Fahad, a jazz fanatic, and I went to watch a guitarist called Ben Monder who blends jazz and rock. His tunes always have an eerie and atmospheric sound. The area in which the concert was being held did not seem particularly safe and I had to keep both eyes wide open whilst wandering through the dark and empty streets looking for a taxi.
The following evening, Fahad and I headed into Manhattan to visit my friend Ben John, whose sister's wedding I had recently attended in Australia. Two other friends of mine from London, Nigel and Mary, were also in New York so it was a good opportunity for us all to catch up. Ben had told us to meet him at Bryant Park, where they were hosting an open screening of the film Breaking Away starring Dennis Quaid. The grass was filled with people sitting down to enjoy the experience. Unfortunately, I was so busy chatting to my friends that I barely got a chance to watch the film. We decided, therefore, to move on and walk the streets of Manhattan where we found ourselves in awe of the high-rise buildings towering over us.
After a half an hour's walk we arrived at 230 Fifth, New York's largest rooftop garden, where we captured some magnificent views of Manhattan. The Empire State Building was only a couple of hundred metres away from us and it looked as beautiful as I always remembered it to be. I headed back to Bay Ridge on the subway, which took an hour and a half. The next day I ventured to Chinatown, just off Canal Street. I had lunch at Joe's Shanghai restaurant. The restaurant itself is not very well known to westerners but the people who are familiar with it always rate it extremely highly; certainly, the crab dumplings I ate there were the best I've ever had.
After lunch we went to Jules, a bar at East Village, where we watched a band play some great covers of Django Reinhardt tunes. The guitarist was excellent and seemed to have perfected the art of playing gypsy jazz. There I got talking to a couple who quizzed me about life in Dubai. Next week: Omar stays in Manhattan's Lower East Side