A New York state of mind

I had the chance to spend a few days in the Big Apple last week. Although most of my time was spent working I did have one cold sunny Sunday to myself to explore. Last time I was in New York was 1999. I wasn’t sure what to expect but many parts of the city seemed like they haven’t changed in any sort of substantial way. I liked that feeling of timelessness, to be able to turn a corner all these years later and feel a sense of familiarity. Of course things have changed. The city has changed. The world has changed. And I’ve changed.

In 1999 I had just graduated from high school and my dear friend and I were celebrating with a week in the city that never sleeps. It was my first time travelling to a big city (or any place really) without my parents and the thrill of being able to do whatever I wanted was intoxicating and a little overwhelming. It was the height of summer and I was obsessed with Rent so visiting Greenwich Village and the Live Cafe were top of my list. Going to Wall Street was a thrill – standing there on the sidewalk I remember the sense of power and prosperity all around me. This was a very important place. The people that worked here ran the world.

Fast forward to 2017 and I made my way to Manhattan for a very different reason. Ground Zero. Even though it’s been a week now since I visited the memorial I still get a weird feeling in my lungs when I think about standing there, watching the water fall into holes too deep to see the bottom of, trying to take in the names on the walls around the pools’ edges. All those names. It’s kind of like the feeling I get when I think back to watching the events of that day and the days that followed unfold. Unreal, until reality set in.

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The political landscape wasn’t that apparent during my last visit, or if it was I was oblivious to it. This time around I couldn’t escape it – not that I wanted to. From the New York Times billboards about truth to the graffiti to the many many ads I saw on the sides of buses and buildings about walls, or more specifically, about not wanting walls. About breaking them down, resisting them. I guess some people might find advertisers putting out this kind of content to be opportunistic, jumping on a bandwagon to make more money. I personally really liked seeing corporations putting their stake very publicly in the ground and saying “here’s where we stand on this.” With all that on my mind, when I was ready to move on I decided to visit the Fearless Girl.

It was strange to leave the 9/11 memorial,  a place of deep sorrow, and very quickly find myself surrounded by sky-high office towers, huge stores, and the hustle and bustle of New Yorkers going about their business. Approaching the Fearless Girl and the Bull it became clear that every other visitor in New York had the same idea I did. I don’t know why as tourists we’re so often surprised by scenes like this but in my mind I had imagined there might be a few other people there and I would have to wait to get the perfect shot but that I’d be able to spend some time doing just that. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were dozens of people crowding around both statues – darting back and forth to pose with them. It was impossible to get close to either the girl or the bull individually, let alone be able to take in the scene of the two of them facing off. I didn’t mind though. She’s such a proud and determined looking little figure and I think she likes all the attention. Seeing her popularity and eavesdropping on people talking about her was an experience in it’s own right and I’m glad I got to have it, even if it wasn’t quite what I had pictured.

So far I’ve been describing my time in New York in order of impact on me rather than chronologically so let’s back up for a moment and fill in some gaps. Saturday night I arrived and wandered around Times Square, visiting a few iconic building that weren’t really on my radar during my last visit. The highlight by far was 30 Rock  – both because I’m a huge fan of the TV show and also because I’ve been loving the work SNL‘s been producing these past few months. It seems silly to be starstruck by a building, but I was.

Sunday morning I started my day by walking the High Line. This is a recent addition to the city so a brand new experience for me. It was pleasant enough but if you have limited time I’d recommend skipping it and heading to Central Park instead.

Next was a stop at Chelsea Market which is on many lists of top things to do in New York and so was packed. It was still fun to check out though, especially all the lovely fresh pasta and seafood and the beautiful spices.

I walked along the Hudson River from the Meatpacking District to Manhattan. The views across the water are stunning, especially when you can start to make out the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

After spending most of the day in the concrete jungle I was craving some fresh air. I hopped on the subway and headed uptown to one of my favorite spots – Strawberry Fields, Central Park. A memorial to John Lennon. Seemed like a fitting way to end an emotional roller-coaster of a day. A place of reflection, and of hope.

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