Monday, May 4, 2015
Jon's America IV (New York City)
My family made good on their threat to come and visit me in the USA a few weeks ago, and I’m pleased to report that everyone had a rollicking good time! My parents and my younger sister flew into New York to kick off their trip with three days in the Big Apple before heading down to DC. Bear in mind, my sister had never been to the USA, my mother last visited in the mid-80s (and saw a very different NYC), and dad hasn’t been here for at least fifteen years. So when cultured people gave me helpful advice on where to take them, along the lines of “Oh, you must see such and such exhibit at MOMA”, my slightly-deflating response was generally “Thanks, but I think we’re starting with the Empire State building and working our way down from there.”
They arrived late on Monday night (staying on 42nd, several blocks away from Times Square), and, despite their jetlag, our immediate attentions turned to finding a bar nearby to catch up in. After a disastrous foray into what way very clearly a gay bar with thumping techno music - I did try to warn them - we wound up in an “Irish” bar, with mum prodding buffalo wings with all the professionally detached concentration of a scientist examining a hitherto undiscovered form of life. We had a brief catch up and then headed off to bed.
Tuesday was our “going south” day, beginning on the High Line (which tourists must now visit by law). It was a great way to get a feel for some of the older, lower-rise neighborhoods and watch the city go about its day. Stopping off at Chelsea Market for a tasty brunch, we then walked down through the East Village while Dad and I did our best to keep everyone out of the shops (they’re literally exactly the same as in London!!). While Anthropology did a lot of damage to his psyche, Dad hit a low point emotionally in Steve Madden, until he realized that was the guy who had the disastrous IPO in Wolf of Wall Street, at which point he cheered right up and started quoting the film.
We continued walking all the way down to 1WTC and Ground Zero. Politics and dubious architecture aside, the memorial pools themselves are powerful, beautiful and emotional, and it was moving to visit such an important place to New York. One thing I do hope, though, is that eventually there will be a sense of life being lived in that space, and more of the buzz of the city as the new office buildings start to fill up. Right now it is busy with people reflecting, and silent except for the measured roar of the water, endlessly cascading. I’m not sure it should always stay that way; wouldn’t the most powerful thing be to create a space that remembers and commemorates what took place there by celebrating life, rather than remaining static and somber? I hope that it will come evolve in that direction; almost anywhere you go in London, you walk on the site of a tragedy from one era or another, and if you were to declare each space as hallowed ground, upon which you can only remember, there would be no city left. That’s just a personal opinion though, and I respect that many will disagree.
After continuing on foot to Battery Park, we hopped on the free ferry to Staten Island, which is just a no-brainer if you want to show off NYC to anyone. Not only are the skyline views magnificent, but you go right past the Statue of Liberty without really having to make any effort to see it. We were amazed by the coastguard escorts, though – a commuter ferry protected through the whole journey by a tripod-mounted machine gun, which added to the sense of occasion but seemed a little over the top.
Running out of steam after getting back to Manhattan, we hopped in a taxi up to the Upper East Side for a lovely meet-up with Betsy’s grandparents, after which we walked across Central Park for some super-authentic pizza on the Upper West side and then called it a night.
Next up: the gajillion photos Betsy took on Top of the Rock!