Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

New York

Myson pulled back the curtains and took in the full splendour of the twilit canyons. Lights were coming on all across Manhattan. 'Wow, ' said Daniel. It was a slow, unabashed expression of awe. I thought of those lines from The Great Gatsby where F. Scott Fitzgerald imagines the colonist approaching the New World for the first time and coming 'face to face at last with something commensurate to his own capacity for wonder'. Like father like son.

My first collision with New York occurred more than quarter of a century ago. Back then, America was just five years clear of the disaster in Vietnam, Jimmy Carter was fumbling in the White House and the Big Apple was in the grip of street crime. Much like now it was a nervous and unsettled time.

I was 19 years old and about to embark on a month-long trip across America with my girlfriend. The girl went long ago, but the love affair with America will continue until death. I have taken care, as one does with any relationship that really matters, never to confuse the oscillations of behaviour with a fundamental appreciation of what is great and good in the object of my affection. The America I love is the one my son saw and which makes him giddy with excitement at the prospect of a return visit.

Wasting an hour before dinner, we skipped through the televangelist channels. First up was an elderly reverend with a curiously youthful and tanned face.

Like a Botoxed walnut, I thought. He was urging repentance in a tone of gloriously curdling unctuousness. My boy was whimpering with mirth. Here is the conversation that followed. Me: Don't laugh. They make a fortune. Him: Have you ever thought of it? Me: That? Are you mad? Him: Well, if we had lots more money, we could come to America all the time. I told him not to be a simpleton. But then I began to ponder. He might have a point. Would even the harshest of my critics deny that I have the glutinous sincerity, the simpering piety to do the job well, perhaps even brilliantly? I could take America by storm, an extraordinary crossbreed: Frank McCourt meets the Revd Billy Graham.

Itwouldn't be the first time that I imagined a religious career. When I was in my early teens I briefly flirted with a vocation. I had fallen under the influence of a young Dominican priest while at a Catholic summer camp. He was the most popular of the priests. I believe he played the guitar and wore a polo neck, and he gazed at me with what I would now call -- in that favourite phrase of our age -- an 'inappropriate' longing. …

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