Apple of My Eye by Helene Hanff
If I ever was fortunate enough to visit New York, I would have to insist upon travelling by time machine – because the only way to visit the city is obviously in the company of the wonderful Helene Hanff, who is alas no longer with us. I realised fairly recently (and I can’t recall why) that I hadn’t yet read her book “Apple of My Eye” so stumbling upon a copy earlier in the year was a bonus. A slim volume of 121 pages, it’s Hanff’s take on her beloved New York and it’s a real joy to read.
The book opens with Hanff being asked to write some copy about the city for a book of photographs. Of course Hanff, a fervent New Yorker, will know all about the famous and touristy things in the city and be able to knock of the text in no time at all, won’t she? Think again! Helene realises that she actually has huge holes in her knowledge, and like many people living in or around tourist attractions, she’s never actually visited them. Enter the voluble and rather wonderful Patsy, Helene’s friend – a Radcliff graduate and very clever. Hanff persuades Patsy (never was a friend better named!) to accompany her round New York’s tourist spots and so the terrible twosome set off on their adventures.
Hanff is never anything less than an entertaining and engaging narrator, and the tales of her and Patsy’s trials, tribulations and adventures round the Big Apple are just wonderful. They take buses so they can see the attractions (which doesn’t always work when they can’t see high buildings out of the window). They get lost (frequently!) and end up desperate for coffee and food. They visit museums which are closed, and touristy restaurants which aren’t. In one memorable escapade they get completely lost in Columbia campus and have to negotiate the most terrifying vertiginous stairway.
Through all this shines Hanff’s love for New York, its history and its people. Although she wrote about the city in her “Letter from New York”, this book takes a more sweeping look at the place through Hanff’s eyes, and it’s funny, entertaining and touching all at the same time. I think I’ve read nearly all of Helene Hanff’s books now, and it saddens me to think there won’t be any more – but at least I have them safely on my shelf to revisit any time I want my spirits raised.