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Would you like some protein with that ?

question genuinely put to me by a waiter in a restaurant (Bare Burger, in Brooklyn) after I'd ordered some kind of salad, with loads of things in it but no meat.

err, what do you mean ?

Though I enjoy a great meal as much as anyone, I'll happily confess to being severely under-sophisticated in this department, to the extent I wouldn't really have been able to say, before that day, where the best place might be to look for protein.

well, beef or chicken.

OK, let's have a bit of beef on top then - though I ended up switching to chicken as this came very highly recommended by a lady sitting at the next table.

Another slightly surreal food-related experience was looking at a couple (admittedly both quite tall) devouring hamburgers for breakfast at our hotel one morning.

In between fooding, walking mile upon mile in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Harlem, soaking the rays in Washington Square, Bryant Park and Central Park, walking up and down Canal Street (just me) with my camera (where I bumped into a group of streettogs, all armed with various models of digital Leicas, mostly M's and Q's), and generally just taking in five days worth of the sensory and "conceptual" overload provided by NY, we were both just... NUMB for a few days after returning to Geneva.

I'm not sure I've ever felt that way returning from Cairo fo instance, though it's in another category altogether in terms of sensory overload. For one thing, though I may know Cairo quite well, it remains essentially foreign, its joys and pains dimmed to my eyes beneath a thick veneer of exoticism.

NY on the other hand is a huge western city, on the face of it much like London where I grew up, so that everything had added relief and immediacy, without the softening filter of exoticism. A cool thing or experience in Cairo is mostly just that. In NY, I experienced it with warts and all, because those warts were worn by things and people I could more spontaneously relate to.

The harshness, rawness of life I felt in NY hit me like a ton of bricks. Exhilarating maybe, for the throbbing pulse felt everywhere, drawing all into a mad transe and leaving behind only the wretched and the damned. But, by God it seemed harsh.

I was first quite admiring of what looked on the face of it like remarkable expressions of civic-mindedness, posters in the subway advocating politeness and courtesy towards your fellow-passengers, all manner of other posters about this or that community program, outreach or whatnot.

Then it struck me: these things are being promoted precisely because they're mostly absent, and although it's recognized they may be needed, it's clearly not a natural tendency of the NY ecosystem.

Interestingly, much the same can be seen in Hong-Kong for example: civic-mindedness and consideration being promoted in a cut-throat environment.

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