Upon entering the room we began to look for the switch, and for a long time could not understand how electricity is turned on here. At first we wandered through the rooms in the dark, then we struck matches, felt our way along the walls, investigated the doors and windows, but there was no switch anywhere. Several times in sheer desperation we would sit down to rest in the darkness. At last we found it. Near every lamp hung a short thin chain with a little ball on the end. A pull on the little chain and the electricity is lighted. Another pull and it is out. The beds had not been made up for the night, so we began to look for the button of the bell to summon the maid. But there was no button. We looked everywhere. We pulled all the likely strings, but that did us no good. Then we understood that the servants must be called by telephone. We rang for the porter and called for the maid.
In the room was furniture which subsequently we saw in all the hotels of America without exception – in the East, the West, and the South. We did not visit the North. But there is every reason to suppose that even there we would have found exactly the same furniture as in New York: a brown commode with a mirror, metal bedsteads trickily painted to look like wood, several soft easy-chairs, a rocking-chair, portable plug lamps (bridge lamps), on high thin legs with large cardboard lampshades.
On the commode we found a fat little book in a black cover. On the book was the gold trade-mark of the hotel. The book proved to be a Bible. This ancient composition had been adapted for business people whose time is limited. On the first page was a table of contents especially composed by the solicitous management of the hotel:
“For allaying spiritual doubts – page so-and-so, text so-and-so.
“For family troubles – page so-and-so, text so-and-so.
“For financial troubles – page…, text…
“For success in business – page…, text…”
That page was somewhat greasy.
We opened the windows. They had to be opened in a peculiar American way, not at all as in Europe. They had to be raised, like windows in a railway carriage.
The windows of our little rooms looked out on three sides. Below lay New York at night.
What can be more alluring than a strange city’s lights thickly sown throughout that immense and foreign world which had gone to sleep on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean! From over there, from the side of the ocean, a warm wind wafted. Quite close rose several skyscrapers. It seemed as though one could touch them with one’s hand. Their lighted windows could be counted. Farther away the lights became more and more dense. Among them were especially bright ones, which stretched out in straight and in bent chains (these must have been street lamps). Beyond gleamed a sheer gold dust of tiny lights, and then a dark unlighted swath. (The Hudson? Or was that the East River?) And again the gold mists of boroughs, constellations of unknown streets and squares. In that world of lights, which at first seemed stationary, one could note a certain movement. Now down the river slowly floated the red light of a cutter. A tiny automobile passed down the street. At times, suddenly, somewhere on the other shore of the river, a light as little as a tiny particle of dust would flash and go out. Surely one of (he seven million denizens of New York had turned off the light and gone to bed! Who was he? A clerk? An employee of the elevated railroad? Perhaps a lonely girl had gone to sleep – some salesgirl (there are so many of them in New York). And at this very moment, lying under two thin blankets, stirred by the steamer whistles of the Hudson, was she seeing in her dreams a million dollars?
New York was asleep, and a million Edison lamps were guarding its slumber. Immigrants from Scotland, from Ireland, from Hamburg and Vienna, from Kovno and Bialystok, from Naples and Madrid, from Texas, Dakota, and Arizona, were asleep. Asleep were also immigrants from Latin America, from Australia, from Africa and China. Black, white, and yellow people were asleep. Looking at the scarcely trembling lights, we wanted to find out as soon as possible how these people work, how they amuse themselves, what they dream of, what they hope for, what they eat.
Finally, utterly exhausted, we, too, went to bed. We had had altogether too many impressions for the first day. New York cannot be taken in such large doses. It is a frightful, yet at the same time pleasant, experience to have one’s body lie in a comfortable American bed, in a state of complete rest, while the mind continues to rock on the Normandie, to ride in a wedding-carriage taxi, to run along Broadway, to travel.
In the morning, having awakened on our twenty-seventh story and having looked out of the window, we saw New York in a pellucid morning mist.
We beheld what might be called a peaceful pastoral scene. A few white threads of smoke rose to the sky, while to the spire of a small twenty-story hut was even attached an idyllic and all-metal cockerel. Sixty-storied skyscrapers, which yesterday evening seemed so close, were separated from us by at least ten red iron roofs and a hundred high stacks and skylights, among which laundry hung and the most ordinary cats wandered about. On the walls could be seen advertisements. The walls of the skyscrapers were full of brick dullness. Most of the buildings in New York are made of red brick.
New York opened at once on several planes. The upper plane was occupied by the tops of those skyscrapers which were higher than ours. They were crowned with spires – glass or gold cupolas gleaming in the sun, or towers with large clocks. The towers themselves were the height of a four-story house. On the next plane, open in its entirety to our gaze, in addition to stacks, skylights, and tomcats one could see flat roofs on which were small one-storied houses with gardens, skimpy trees, little brick paths, a small fountain, and even rattan chairs. Here one could pass the time of day to perfection, almost as at Klyazma, inhaling the petrol perfume of flowers, andlistening to the melodic baying of the elevated railway. That monstrosity was on the next plane of New York City. The railway lines of the elevated rest on iron poles and pass on the level of the second and third stories, and only in certain parts of the city do they rise to the fifth or sixth story. This antiquated structure discharges from time to time a horrible clatter that numbs the brain. It causes healthy people to become nervous and the nervous to lose their minds, while the insane jump at the sound in their padded cells and roar like lions. In order to see the last and fundamental plane, the plane of the street, one had to bend out of the window and look down at a right angle. There, as in reversed binoculars, one could see a tiny crossing with tiny automobiles, pedestrians, newspapers strewn on the pavement, and even two rows of shining buttons attached to the lanes where pedestrians are allowed to cross the street.
From the other window one could see the Hudson River, which separates the State of New York from the State of New Jersey. The houses that go down to theHudson are in New York, while the houses on the other side of the river are in Jersey City. We were told that what at first glance seems a strange administrative division has its compensations. One can, for example, live in one State and work in another. One could also indulge in speculations in New York while paying taxes in Jersey. There, by the way, the taxes are not so high. This seems to add colour to the grey monotonous life of a stockbroker. Or one can get married in New York and get divorced in New Jersey, or the other way around. It all depends upon where the divorce laws are easier and where the marriage-breaking process is cheaper. We, for example, when buying the automobile for our journey through the country, insured it in New Jersey, which charges a few dollars less than New York.
4. Appetite Departs While Eating
THE NEWCOMER need have no fear about leaving his hotel and plunging into the New York jungle. Despite the amazing sameness of its streets, it is well-nigh impossible to get lost there.
Yet the secret is simple. The thoroughfares are divided into two types: the perpendicular ones, oravenues; and the horizontal, or streets. Thus the island of Manhattan has been laid out. Parallel to each other are First, Second, and Third avenues. Then parallel to them is Lexington Avenue, Fourth Avenue, a continuation of which from the central railway station bears the name of Park Avenue (that is the street of the wealthy), MadisonAvenue, beautiful (shopping district) Fifth Avenue, Sixth, Seventh, and so forth. Fifth Avenue divides the city into two parts, the East and West. All these avenues (and they are many) are crossed by streets, of which there are several hundred. And if the avenues have certain distinguishing attributes (some are wider, others are narrower; there is an elevated over Second, Third, Sixth,