News.com Australia, February 03, 2007: INCENSE and chanting fill the rooms of the Interfaith League Guesthouse, my New York refuge in a debilitating August heatwave.My host Ari asks if I would like to share some sourdough toast and fresh asparagus as I collapse into the cool of this East Village apartment.
City residents have various methods for coping with the extremes of summer. In Chelsea, big men in singlets sprawl on their porch steps until the early hours of the morning.
At midday the shaded avenues of Central Park are lined with slumped bodies; a walk is simply out of the question.
In the boroughs, children dawdle in the streets with ice creams dripping from their elbows or splash in the gutter beside burst hydrants.
But as a tourist I can't surrender to the climate. I must see the sights of Manhattan in spite of discomfort.
The subway is a moving sauna in which I criss-cross the city, gasping for air when I resurface on the burning pavements.
I plod the length of Fifth Avenue amid families of sweltering American vacationers scuttling from one air-conditioned emporium to the next. And at the Bronx Zoo and the Museum of Natural History, I am engulfed by swarms of screaming children on haphazardly supervised summer-school excursions.
Every afternoon I return to the East Village, grimy and irritable with aching feet, limp hair, sticky palms and an empty stomach.
Ari welcomes me with balm for every ailment: simple offerings and peaceful silences in stark contrast to the seething metropolis outside.
Heat and noise are not all that vanish beyond the closed apartment door. So too does the city's commercialism, its obsession with material things, its narcissism, suspicion and cold-hearted indifference.
Ari believes the guesthouse gives him a chance to meet people when they are open to new ideas.
He reaches out to travellers on a journey of self-discovery to plant the seeds of a spiritual life.
But travellers are a wary lot, reluctant to trust, sceptical of generosity, fearful of scams, unwilling to believe. On a mission to see what has to be seen, we collect pictures, diary notes and trinkets that won't be interpreted or understood until they are studied at home.
At the guesthouse, my needs are immediate and basic: clean sheets, a good shower and wholesome meals. Chanting Hare Krishna for an hour in the afternoon qualifies me for a discount in the wonderful vegetarian restaurant downstairs. I accept Ari's hospitality and avoid his searching questions; I politely read his spiritual papers and avert my eyes from his gaze.
It is not until I am home that Ari's message can be heard. While my diary almost fails to mention the East Village sanctuary, my memory of New York is infused with the spiritual renewal it offered and the muffled echoes of cymbals and tambourines.
The Interfaith League Guesthouse is a Hare Krishna-run B&B at 25 First Avenue and First Street.