THE HOYOS FILE: United Nations virgin
LAST WEEK, for the first time in my life, I applied for media accreditation to the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations.
It was my friend Tony Best who made the suggestion.
“Since you will be in New York anyway,” he said in his distinctive urbane drawl, “why don’t you attend some of the sessions at the UN?”
The UN not being, shall we say, my “beat”, I had to ask him what was going on there in late September. It was just a world summit.
Anyway, I went online and applied and when I got to NY, I called up and a very nice lady named Karen said: “You’ve been approved!”
I felt like I had won something, and I was so happy that I figured I had better go and actually collect my Press pass and see what the place looked like on the inside.
So after a lazy morning enjoying unseasonably warm weather in the touristy but familiar embrace of Times Square at 45th Avenue and Broadway, I ventured due east, my destination probably not more than a mile and a half away: the United Nations building at 45th and First.
I hailed a taxi and, surprisingly, got one very quickly right on Seventh, but the tightening security net as we moved eastward made Manhattan’s already snarled traffic almost gridlocked, and after half an hour, just after we crossed Madison Avenue, I got out, paid the driver ten bucks and decided to walk the rest of the way.
In a couple of minutes I was passing the Waldorf-Astoria, where the United States president always stays when he is in town and even has a suite named after him (I think it costs something like US$25 000 per night, but you probably get free breakfast), and there was a large demonstration going on opposite the hotel against the Chinese government.
So obviously the Chinese delegation was staying there too.
The Waldorf is so popular with world leaders, I’m told, that even some discerning Barbadian prime ministers have been known to call it their home while in NYC.
As I tried to make my way towards the world’s greatest talk shop, I realised that the east-west streets on both north and south sides of the Waldorf were blocked off and police were everywhere on the sidewalks. So was Special US Envoy Richard Holbrook, who was holding forth to a colleague in front of the hotel entrance.
My trek on foot just got more and more exciting as I approached the UN.
More security and barriers along the sidewalks of First Avenue caused more traffic problems and helped increase the sense of tension in the atmosphere. Almost directly opposite the building, on the other side of First, another demonstration was going on, this time by, I believe, the Snow Mountain People of Tibet Against Global Warming.
One could see right away why they would be opposed to it.
A few more steps along the security gauntlet and I was in! It somehow seemed anti-climactic.
The familiar sight of harried journalists interviewing well-dressed officials was as familiar as if it was taking place at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre in Barbados, and the media accreditation centre was a large tent on the grounds.
A short while later, there being only a trickle of journalists at the time, my processing was completed and media accreditation issued, valid until September 30.
I was curious to see the media centre, and I found it refreshingly predictable. Journalists from all over the world were seated at rows of desks in a large room, about the size of the Hibiscus Room at the Sandiford Centre.
The buzz of different languages, the quiet moments of filing stories followed by the sudden rush when your particular president was about to speak or on the move provided the only tension in the air.
So despite all the security on the outside, it was just another day at the office on the inside. I liked that.
And no matter what languages were being spoken, I could translate them all: “Are we ready?” “The president is arriving/leaving now! Let’s go.” “Where is the speech?” “We go live in ten minutes.”
Twenty-eight presidents and foreign ministers were scheduled to speak on Monday between 9 a.m. and lunchtime, including Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo.
In addition, official persons in the media centre kept announcing lots of interesting Press conferences, on topics like Financing For Development and Anti-Corruption.
From 3 p.m. another four dozen presidents or foreign ministers were scheduled to speak, including several from our region. And that was only Monday.
I asked one of the very helpful media centre personnel if the general assembly was indeed in session and she said yes and told me how to get there. When she was told I was interested in hearing Caribbean leaders speak, she said you could never tell exactly when someone would be on.
“They are supposed to speak for just five or ten minutes but Gaddafi was here last year and he spoke for two hours,” she griped.
After checking out the route (that is a long ramp), I decided to leave as I was not dressed for work and it was getting pretty late in the afternoon anyway. So I took a leisurely stroll back to Times Square via 46th and breathed a sigh of relief as I exited the front lines of the security net at the end of Second or Third, once more noting that there seemed to be far more tension outside on the streets than inside on the grounds of the hallowed United Nations.
As I made my way back from the unnatural world of diplomacy, which can usually only take place behind the heaviest security ever devised by man, I watched the rest of humankind in New York City, oblivious to all that, hurry home as orange streams of sunlight softened the edges of the glass-and-steel buildings of this amazing city.
It is a place that has no time for you unless you know exactly what you want and can say it clearly and quickly, and at the same time it is a city with a heart of gold. It is a city where the notion of fairness to all seems etched in the very streets you walk on.