“… where we’re going to take in two well-known landmarks: Rockefeller Center, which many of you will associate with ice-skating…”
We swing round a corner — and my heart gives a swoop of excitement. Tiffany’s. It’s Tiffany’s, right in front of me! I must just have a quick peek. I mean, this is what New York is all about. Little blue boxes, and white ribbon, and those gorgeous silver beans… I sidle up to the window and stare longingly at the beautiful display inside. Wow. That necklace is absolutely stunning. Oh God, and look at that watch, with all those little diamonds round the edge. I wonder how much something like that would—
“Hey, everybody, wait up!” rings out Christoph’s voice. I look up — and they’re all bloody miles ahead again. How come they walk so fast, anyway? “Are you OK there, Rebecca?” he calls, with a slightly forced cheeriness. “You’re going to have to try to keep up! We have a lot of ground to cover!”
“Sorry,” I say, and scuttle toward the group. “Just having a quick little look at Tiffany’s.” I grin at a woman next to me, expecting her to smile back. But she looks at me blankly and pulls the hood of her baggy gray sweatshirt more tightly over her head.
“As I was saying,” Christoph says as we stride off again, “above Fourteenth Street, Manhattan was designed as a grid, so that…”
And for a while I really try to concentrate. But it’s no good. I can’t listen. I mean, come on. This is Fifth Avenue! There are women striding along in immaculate coats and sunglasses, yellow taxicabs honking at each other, two men are standing on a street corner, arguing in Italian… And everywhere I look, there are fabulous shops. There’s Gucci — and that’s the hugest Gap I’ve ever seen in my life… and oh God, look at that window display over there! And we’re just walking straight past Armani Exchange and no one’s even pausing…
What is wrong with these people? Are they complete philistines?
We walk on a bit farther, and I’m trying my best to catch a glimpse inside a window full of amazing-looking hats when… oh my God. Just… just look there. It’s Saks Fifth Avenue. Right there, across the street. One of the most famous department stores in the world. Floors and floors of clothes and shoes and bags… And thank God, at last, Christoph is coming to his senses and stopping.
“This is one of New York’s most famous landmarks,” he’s saying, with a gesture. “Many New Yorkers regularly visit this magnificent place of worship — once a week or even more often. Some even make it here daily! We don’t have time to do more than have a quick look inside — but those that are interested can always make a return trip.”
“Is it very old?” asks a man with a Scandinavian accent.
“The building dates from 1879,” says Christoph, “and was designed by James Renwick.”
Come on, I think impatiently, as someone else asks a question about the architecture. Who cares who designed it? Who cares about the stonework? It’s what’s inside that matters.
“Shall we go in?” says Christoph at last.
“Absolutely!” I say joyfully, and hurry across the street toward the entrance.
It’s only as my hand is actually on the door that I realize no one else is with me. Where’ve they all gone? Puzzled, I look back — and the rest of the group is processing into a big stone church, outside which there’s a board reading “St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
Oh, I see. When he said “magnificent place of worship” he meant…
Right. Of course.
I hesitate, hand on the door, feeling torn. I should go into the cathedral. I should take in some culture and come back to Saks later.
But then — how is that going to help me get to know whether I want to live in New York or not? Looking around some old cathedral?
Put it like this — how many millions of cathedrals do we have in England? And how many branches of Saks Fifth Avenue?
“Are you going in?” says an impatient voice behind me.
“Yes!” I say, coming to a decision. “Absolutely. I’m going in.”
I push my way through the heavy wooden doors and into the store, feeling almost sick with anticipation. I haven’t felt this excited since Octagon relaunched their designer floor and I was invited to the cardholders’ champagne reception.
I mean, visiting any shop for the first time is exciting. There’s always that electric buzz as you push open the door; that hope, that belief, that this is going to be the shop of all shops, which will bring you everything you ever wanted, at magically low prices. But this is a thousand times better. A million times. Because this isn’t just any old shop, is it? This is a world-famous shop. I’m actually here. I’m in Saks on Fifth Avenue in New York. As I walk slowly into the store — forcing myself not to rush — I feel as though I’m setting off for a date with a Hollywood movie star.