The Journey Is Part Of The Destination
It didn’t take long to drive up from Asbury Park to Jersey City — one of New Jersey’s biggest towns, and just across the water from Manhattan. We were on our way to New York City. I’d only ever been to the airport before, so my imagination was wild with ideas about what NYC would be like in reality. This can be a risk of course. I actually ruined Paris for myself by going there just after I’d read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and my expectations had been built so high by the dreams of bohemian Montemarte synergies that the reality of it just passed me by as I searched for something which no longer existed.
My idea now is to go back to Paris and live it with an open mind, but for New York, I was determined to get it right the first time. This was never going to be too difficult: as we drove into Jersey City, the Manhattan skyline was every bit as glorious as you could imagine, peering back at you over a horizon which had been just trees and marshlands before; surprising and captivating.
We planned to stay in Jersey City while we visited New York; it’s only ten minutes by PATH train to Manhattan and it was about a quarter of the price of New York hotels. Even the cheap ones cost about 400 dollars a night because our visit coincided with the seventh anniversary of 9/11. This was unintentional actually, but when we realized it we were quite happy for the chance to see the memorial services.
Now, from my experience here I’ve got a few tips for those who would visit NYC themselves.
1) Don’t call it the “Big Apple”. Nobody, apart from the marketing guys, calls NYC “the Big Apple”. The name stems from the fact that the city’s official fruit is the apple. (Why they felt the need for an official fruit, I’ll never know.) Just call it NYC, or New York City.
2) People aren’t being rude to you. Nick was a little taken aback by the brusqueness with which our waitress in our first restaurant showed us to the table. And she was quite abrupt with us, but this isn’t done out of malice. New York is so crazy and chaotic and there are so many people crammed into such a small space (just 23 square miles) that the “how are you today, sir” and “can I help you in any way” of other cities would feel like an unwarranted intrusion into one’s personal space here. The people will go out of their way to help you if you ask, but you have to ask first. And that’s fine. The anonymity and space which you are left with are actually quite refreshing.
3) Don’t dither. With so many people moving around to where they have to be in such a crowded place, directness and synthesis are at a premium. If you’re at the front of a queue and umm and ahh before making your choice, the people behind you (and those serving you) get pretty upset pretty quickly.
When I first heard this, I started to try to do everything really fast: walking, moving, deciding, speaking; but this isn’t necessary. You can walk slowly if you wish — the important thing is to know where you are moving before you start moving. You can’t hesitate. You can tell which people are tourists very easily in NYC just by the way they walk. They’ll get to the street crossing and stand in the middle of the path, looking around trying to decide where to head next. For New Yorkers, there is nothing more annoying. “If ya need time to decide where ya wanna go, get outta the sidewalk!” they’ll say….
So, following our newly garnered information, we went happily around New York City. It was fantastic. Unreal. It’s like everything you see in the movies and more. There is a constant buzz of energy, people are flying all around you, there is a strong sense of “togetherness” about this city and it feels very safe compared to others we’ve been in. The buildings rise up to black out the sky, but you never feel intimidated by them… despite their hugeness they don’t feel impersonal.
To sample the height of them, we decided to go up the Empire State Building. And though the ESB has dropped a few places in the world’s tallest building ranks, it is still impressive and the views are spectacular.
In the next one you can even make out the slight silhoette of the Statue of Liberty: it’s smaller than you think!
Just one more curiosity from New York City: the Charging Bull. It’s a huge (7000 lb) and almost cartoonlike sculpture which sits in the financial district near Wall Street. It was made by artist Arturo di Modica in 1989, and he gave it to the city as a gift — leaving it in front of the New York Stock Exchange as a Christmas present that year. Now it sits just around the corner from there where it has been for almost 20 years, becoming in that time a symbol of those bull markets NYC knows (or knew) so much about. The thing is, as the city never commisioned it, it is still designated as a “temporary installation”.
9/11 – Seventh Anniversary
It was just by chance that we ended up here on this day, seven years after those infamous attacks. Really, it has all been heartwrenching. We tend to become numb to these things and to consider them far away as we live in Europe, and seeing New York carry on with business, it’s easy to forget that this is a very open wound here in NYC. In every sense really; Ground Zero, where the towers once stood, is still a building site and we heard first hand from New Yorkers who were pretty angry with how slow the memorial building is taking to build. Ground Zero looks the same as it did a year ago and New York deserves more.
The scenes today were very powerful. We switched on the TV in the morning and it was playing the same schedule that it did in 2001. The programs interrupted by the breaking news, and then the ensuing confusion, chaos, and loss of life which everybody was watching the day that “time stopped”.
On the streets there was a predictably massive police presence, bolstered by soldiers wherever protests were being held. People were protesting the treatment of the survivors; the Bush government’s perceived culcability; the lack of building progress at Ground Zero — everything. Police bands played, people gathered, the death toll was read, every flag in the city was at half mast — accepting a lower position so as to give space above to the invisible flag of the dead — Senators Obama and McCain both stopped by to visit, but we were unable to see either of them. The people of New York City were very kind in accepting us into their mourning, and wherever you stand politically you can’t help but feel tears building up inside when you feel the force of what happened here seven years ago. During the evening, from Ground Zero two solid beams of light were shot out into the night sky overhead: symbols of the hope, defiance, and love that the city will hold in its heart forever as of that day, September 11th, 2001.