We are now heading home after just over nine weeks away, and looking forward to some downtime, that’s for sure. But first, New York City.
We spent about a week taking in all the sights (and sounds and smells) and going to all the usual places. We were amazed not only at the sights but with the whole atmosphere of the city. So many of our preconceptions turned out to be not quite right.
Firstly, although we expected the landmarks – Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, etc. – we didn’t expect the sheer style of the city. Even the buildings that aren’t famous, or even notable, still seem to suit the New York style, and of course the wooden water tanks, roof gardens and fire escapes are quintessential NYC. Not to mention the Brownstones featured in every television series from Friends to Becker to Cosby to How I Met Your Mother.
Our first real view of New York City was Times Square. We stumbled upon it while looking for our hotel, and we were completely overwhelmed by the scale and the noise and character of the place. It is full of people of all ages,
colours, cultures and occupations; tourists and locals all enjoying the atmosphere. There are street sellers, street performers, television cameras and movie previews, all to a neon backdrop that never stops moving. And it is all friendly.
The subway, with its tiling and its mosaic station names, its exposed girders holding up the roof, its dirt and grime and above all its hades-like temperatures, is another incredible institution. The deafening noise of the trains, and the labyrinths of tunnels running around the stations are all a bit hard to get used to, although to the locals it must be second nature. It quickly became our transport of choice to get around the city.
The subway provides entertainment as well as transport. There are bands playing in the bigger stations, and there are frequently buskers or other performers on the trains themselves. The locals take it all with a grain of salt, give a few cents or a dollar and get on with their day, but for the tourists (heaps of tourists) it is all part of the picture. We had a capella singers on Times Square station, acrobats on the downtown E train and a preacher on the Staten
The Brill Building
Waiting for someone to throw some unneeded talent out the window
Island Ferry. Come to think of it he wasn’t all that entertaining, although his heart was clearly in his work.
We spent some time visiting the second tier of landmarks – Grand Central Station, Macy’s – as well as a few obscure ones. The Brill Building is obscure, and is really just a building on Broadway, but in the late 50’s and early 60’s it housed many of the songwriting teams that were responsible for the pop songs of the day. Neil Diamond. Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Those walls would have heard a few blue notes and dud rhymes.
The New York City attitood was something else we expected but didn’t find anywhere. There were no people angrily pushing us out of the way if we stopped on the pavement, no one pushing onto the subway in front of us. In fact everyone was polite and the city seems to be full of locals ready and willing to help a lost tourist find the right street or subway line.
On a hot day we joined a throng in the queue for
the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Liberty is one of those things better viewed from a distance, but Ellis Island, the former immigration centre and now a museum, was very interesting, especially since we had seen a lot of detail on the Irish emigration experience not many weeks earlier. One of the starting points for the American melting pot, many notable people were among the twelve million that were processed there. Judging by the arbitrary way the officials assessed the arrivals, some of these may have been lucky to be allowed to stay in the first place.
I can’t let my visit to the Guggenheim go unreported either. Sharon was smart enough to go shopping instead, but I had a mission to see some art. Lee Ufan, for those who know of these things, is apparently very highly regarded. Since his works largely consist of stones placed on cushions around the floor of the gallery I’m not really sure why. As a philistine in such matters I know I have no right to criticize but I’d rather look at a good Monet or Gaughin any day. Actually, there were a few of them at the
The scale of the city was best illustrated by the street fair that took place down 6th Avenue on the Saturday of the Independence Day weekend. It stretched for about ten blocks, had hundreds of stalls and was teeming with thousands of people all day long.
On our last night in NYC we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, admiring the view of the city and its bridges in the setting sun. Clearly this is a popular thing to do, as the bridge was packed with tourists and locals either walking, jogging or riding across. At Times Square we grabbed a last bit of ambience (and a last Budweiser) before heading home.
So our second trip is over, with some astounding and beautiful places that we have been lucky enough to see. It has had its share of the beautiful as well as the thought-provoking and we are coming home with some changed ideas about the world. And even better, we’re not coming home to go straight back to work!
Next instalment will be in a few months, when we head off to Central Australia.
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