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New York City. The city legends have sung about, spoken about, written about, featured in movies and books; the most famous city in the world. The dark city, the light city, the city that never sleeps; one that most seem incapable of defining, except to say that it’s the greatest city on earth.
Here some dreams are lived out in Soho and the upper east side sipping martinis and munching on macaroons, while other dreams are left to their vices in the gutter of less fortunate districts smelling of urine and subway fumes.
The empire state of mind is exactly that – a state of mind, until you touch down at JFK International Airport. On an overcast day the city’s countless phallic buildings melt into each other – a grey mass of corporate steel. A cold welcome if ever there was one.
On closer inspection from a black Lincoln car on the gridlocked street, the nuts and bolts begin to appear. The magnificent design and engineering skill that went into the Queensborough bridge is breathtaking. You stare in wonder at the skyscrapers built with precision and audacity. There are potholes, missing drain covers and litter. The realisation that even New Yorkers have to deal with traffic and crazy taxi drivers is strangely heartening.
More grey overcoats and glum faces, plugged into iPods, until you turn the corner into Times Square; probably the brightest place in the universe second to the sun.
You step out into a world designed specifically to thin your wallet. Entire buildings covered in billboards. In fact, billboards that qualify as buildings is more accurate. T-shirts, caps, magnets, toys, sweets and hugs from Minnie Mouse who insulted me by throwing my money at me – she obviously thought her hug was worth more than the money I gave her. You can find anything you want in New York, and boy did I try. Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Dash, Marchesa, Guess, I wanted it all. Fifth Avenue is a girl’s yellow brick road – and our Wizard of Oz lives in Soho. Shoes, handbags, clothes and fragrances to make a girl’s heart pump custard. The prices are much more reasonable if you like brands or just really stunning clothes.
New Yorkers are not big on customer service though and a smile is rare, in my experience anyway.
Finding the city’s iconic features is easy enough, paying for a closer look is rather more painful but ultimately worth it. At $25 a pop, going up the Empire State Building is not cheap but the opportunity to look down on a metropolis immersed in such history should not be passed up.
We gazed across towards Chelsea piers where the Titanic was meant to dock, and further to Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants came ashore in the 1800s to build and plunder for a better life. Some would find fortune in commerce and politics, others would strike out completely. The idea that New York is an American city is false – Wall Street maybe, but the real economy, the bread and lard of the working class consists of immigrants with both a long and short history in New York. Therein lies the charm of the city; in its many cultures and influences from the Mexican food to the Bangladeshi trinket store selling everything made in China.
Every visitor to New York would at some point be drawn to the Statue of Liberty, the beautiful guardian of the port city. She truly is mysterious and more graceful in person. Somehow you would expect her to be bigger but you soon learn that it is all about her aura and the romance of it all. We have Hollywood to thank for that, but no regrets, she’s a real lady.
If you have a few hours, and you need to take a breather, it’s probably a good time to stop at Ground Zero – a place to pause. The thought-provoking and moving tribute to the victims of 9/11 must be experienced no matter what your politics. The Reflecting Absence pools are a sombre reminder of the depths to which this city fell on September 11, 2001, only to raise itself up again, even in the midst of a global economic crisis.
Birdland on Broadway is a light-hearted place where the legends of jazz like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie have graced the stage. This particular night belonged to multiple grammy winner Arturo O’Farrill, son of the great Chico O’Farrill. Beautiful sounds to accompany a top shelf meal made up a Sunday evening dreams are made of.
The sun only made an appearance for a day and though we didn’t make enough of Central Park, The Met museum or Yankee Stadium we saw enough to love and dislike about New York. It just wouldn’t be a truly global city if it didn’t reflect those dark and light qualities. - Saturday Star