Tourist in one´s own backyard

I have a few half-read books lying around and just finished this one, "Apple of my Eye" by Helene Hanff. As you may remember, she wrote one of my favourite books, "84 Charing Cross Road". This book came in 1977, and is a sort of guide book to New York, by the quintessential New Yorker herself. It´s not any guide book of course, it´s more of a story about how Helene and her friend Patsy, who´s even born there, does New York and goes to all those places they tell every visiter to see, but have never actually been to themselves.

It´s like that for everyone. Where we live, we live, we don´t go touristing, unless we make a conscious decision to and put quite a bit of effort into it. I don´t know why it´s harder to be a tourist in one´s own backyard, but it is. It´s not about time and money, it´s something more deeply psychological.

It´s a charming book, as I absolutely expected any book written by Hanff to be. The facts are portioned out as part of the story about these two slightly potty middle-aged ladies, not always in agreement about what is useful information to a tourist. They are ambitious and brave, as when they venture up to the top of the World Trade Center, even though they both suffer badly from vertigo (which seems an unpractical affliction to have in the world´s most skyscraper-dense area).

It sounds a bit like this:

"President Washington," I told Patsy - though I knew from experience that the minute you start a sentence with "President Washington" everybody stops listening - "used to stroll here on summer evenings with his wife and the members of his Cabinet and their wives, back in 1789 when New York was the nation´s capital."
By this time, Patsy wasn´t even within earshot. There are memorial stones in Battery Park, honoring immigrants who died in their adopted country´s wars, and Patsy was darting from stone to stone, rapping out: "Who´s on this slab? Did you write him down? Who´s on that slab over there? Did you read this one? Write it down. You´re not writing anything down!"
"What do I want with every name on every stone?" I demanded.
"Well, I just think you´re being very haphazard about this!" said Patsy. "Somewhere in this book you´d better write: Everything in this book is half-accurate."

It´s rather clever and very amusing. For a while I thought that Patsy must be a literary invention, but at the end of the book there are a number of appendixes to this edition that came in 1988, and sadly one informs the reader that Patsy passed away from cancer only three years after this book first came out.

I´m sure the book works as a general orientation even now, if you are planning to make a New York trip, and it also works as just an amusing story about two ladies going touristing in their own town. It has that same feel-good quality that all Hanff´s books have. It makes me think of those travel stories by Jenny Diski. I wish she would write a book about her home town Cambridge, I´m sure that too would be something to read.

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