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   I vividly remember my introductions to new countries and cities. First days are always important. (January 28, 1996)

My latest was to Israel, arriving in the late morning at Ben Gurion airport. Outside the airport, I took a 'shirute', which is the Israeli share-a-cab. We waited for it to be filled, then drove in the company of Arabic music into the arid yellow limestone hills of Jerusalem.

From the road, the old city clinging to a hill looked like a Biblical drawing, which is not surprising since it is the living model for the drawings, I could see the Jaffa Gate, the Tower of David, the gold dome on the rock. As introductions to cities go, it was very impressive.

Istanbul's Attaturk airport, I arrived at 2 a.m. There were no immigration forms to fill, Turkey has wisely done away with these, and, at the exchange counter, for my handful of dollars I got millions of liras, some of them in torn notes that had been scotch-taped.

The taxi, working on night metre, which is double the day one, drove past a dark Bospherous and a brilliantly floodlit New Mosque, which is new in name only, dating back to the Ottomans. For the first night, and one night only, I had booked at the atrociously expensive Marmara, 20 floors up and from the windows I saw the illuminated domes and minarets of the Santa Sophia, the Sultan Ahmed and the Sultan Suleman. My own private 'son et lumiere' at 3.30 a.m. Welcome to Turkey.

London was a more familiar area, even the first time I arrived there, a sort of 'déjà vu'. I took a ferry from Calais to Folkestone, then hitched a ride in a van delivering truck tyres, passing through a green county cricket countryside that I associated with Godfrey Evans and Jim Laker and the Bedser twins.

I was dropped outside a station called Tooting Beck, from where I took a tube to Central London, surfacing in the imperial grandeur of Whitehall. Years later, I have still not got over the London underground, it must be the most amazing railway system in the world, so expertly networked and yet so simple to follow.

Hong Kong was introduced from the sky, appropriately by its national airline, Cathay Pacific. The aircraft came low over the city, rattling the glass of its tower hotels, then turning around and gently landing on a tarmac lapped by the sea. Outside, I got lost in a pop art of Chinese letters and designer labels.

My first view of New York was from a Pan-Am aircraft, the Manhattan skyline, ingrained in my mind from hundreds of Hollywood movies. Today, I am not sure whether I realy saw it or imagined it in one delirious moment of having finally made it to the U.S. of A.

 
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