Monday, 24 August 2009

Road Trip: New York, New York

We spent two full days wandering around New York at the start of July; it's a city that fascinates, from the outside looking in, arguably the city that people think of first when they are confronted with the idea of the USA.

We started on our first day of sightseeing by heading for Times Square, where we both were faced with mammoth breakfasts and people trying to rip us off (at least I only ended up with two rap CDs by young stars, one of who gave me the 'rap name' N-Banga; Dave paid over the odds for a battery charger and complained bitterly about it for days); from there we wandered down Broadway more or less, heading downtown. Grand Central, Macy's, the Empire State Building and more, we looked for the New York that jumped out of the collective unconscious, the New York that we were told was waiting for us.

Hustle and bustle doesn't begin to describe the movements on the streets, but away from the main crowds there is a lot of space and quiet in New York City. The promenade leading to the Staten Island Ferry (which is perhaps the greatest free tourist attraction/public transport I've ever heard of) was lovely and chilled out, the occasional runner or roller-blader, and the ferry itself gives spectacular views. Central Park too, is utterly glorious, an oasis of calm in the centre of a fractured metropolis, itself a patchwork piece of quiet (reservoir, lakes, gardens, paths, so much quiet, so much space, so much beauty).

The memorial centre for the World Trade Centre was a very difficult place to visit; it almost felt as if I was trespassing on the grief of others, as if I had no right to be there because I hadn't been present when that awful day eight years ago happened. The Guggenheim was a joy, a celebration of what it means to create - from the amazing collection of famous art to the incredible explosion of talent on the top floor with works by school children, this was perhaps the highlight of the city for me.

Looking back seven weeks or so, New York remains a difficult place for me to reconcile in my mind. In many ways beautiful, in many ways quite challenging with its constantly shifting boundaries and areas, it was a shock to the system from stepping off the plane to when we caught the train to Washington DC, at once familiar with language and culture and at the same time very alien.


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