*Warning – the below post features no pictures of food.
Look, I know it’s trite to say you love New York but fuck it: the city is spectacular. From the amount of fucks everyone gives (0,) to the distinct personality that each neighbourhood cultivates, it’s a place that grabs you by the guts and makes you gawk like a fool.
The city is striking but what catches me most are the art deco style buildings; old structures that lean in close, packed tightly, guarding their secrets and history from interlopers such as myself. The ever-present iron fire-escapes add to the city’s mystique and entrance the impressionable visitor, casting angular shadows on the streets and contrasting with the curling moldings that decorate the structures. Even after living in New York I still can’t muster any cynicism or affect a blasé manner when I revisit. I still marvel at the place like the damn bumpkin spud-fucker I am. I spend almost all my time in New York walking, gazing big eyed at the spectacle that is the city.
When we arrived on our first day the weather insists we head straight for Central Park. The Park is a gift of unquantifiable value: a space that provides a city so large with such an immense green space. It acts as a pocket of tranquility and provides refuge from the bedlam of the streets. Even with the ornate buildings guarding the park and looming overhead, there’s still a vastness to the area; you feel like you could wander forever. After one such healthy wander we stopped in Strawberry Fields but were quickly driven out by bands of Australian children, each equipped with a matching backpack and the shrill fervor of youths released from scholarly bondage.
Central Park led us to Columbia University and we roamed the campus, which is book-ended by two mammoth buildings designed in classical Grecian style. These are the kind of buildings frequently found in academic environments and for some reason make me wish I was writing a soul-destroying thesis on Derrida (that bastard.) From there we traveled all the way to the West Village, a place that I love because it can pull off both kitsch and sophistication depending on what street you’re on.
Friday started with a Brooklyn-based misadventure that deserves no description. From there we went to the new World Trade Centre, (named with usual American subtlety – “Freedom Tower.”) The building itself is actually amazing – the tower gleams and constantly changes colour, light and shadows dance on the glass as the panes reflect the moving sky. The building also reflects some of America’s better qualities: innovation, resilience, pride. Standing at the base and looking up at the structure boldly piercing the sky is, for anyone who remembers watching the twin towers fall, a sobering moment.
My solemn mood soured pretty quickly by the time I had seen my 9th selfie stick. This tool of dickery is everywhere at the World Trade Centre; a piece of equipment that conflates its users’ already overblown sense of self-importance. People were literally leaning on the side of the memorial and covering the names of the dead with their backpacks so they could capture the moment they spent, grinning like idiots, at the site of mass grave all to share with all their absent friends.
The other thing that feels wrong at the 9/11 memorial (which is so well designed and maintained,) is knowing that those who worked there after September 11, the people who dug and cleared and developed illnesses from breathing in the malevolent substances, are being abandoned to their sickness by the US government. This, in stark contrast to the building’s brilliance, gives a sense of America’s worst quality: putting so much value on appearance but failing where it really matters.
From the memorial we walked to the Lower East Side. I love this area because you can easily imagine it as it once was: dirty, hectic, loud and crawling with God Damn Immigrants, hawking their wares and squawking in their myriad native tongues. Apart from the abundance of bars, restaurants and variant boutique establishments the neighbourhood has not changed much: the streets are still narrow and jumbled and the buildings still squat and furtive. Here we had a drink in McSorleys – one of the oldest bars in New York. It’s a grimy, saw-dust floored bar with manky-looking memorabilia crowding the walls. McSorleys serves two types of beer: light and dark and if you want something else well fuck you. If there weren’t multitudes of yuppies crowding the round tables you could almost pretend you were having a drink in turn-of-the-century New York (minus the tuberculosis.)
On our last night, after dinner in a typical New York restaurant, (the kind of place that offers a menu featuring “artisanal reinterpretations of classic dishes, inspired by indigenous Polynesian architecture,”) we walked towards the subway and ended up sitting next to three flamboyantly dressed Southern gentlemen. I’m not sure how it happened, and I can hear my American cousin groaning at the Irishness of it all, but we were all soon belting out the choons with a flagrant disregard for the other passengers on the uptown 1 train. We embraced their soulful crooning as much as they did our lusty Irish yodeling – it really was one of those things that could only happen in a city like New York.
The next day we prepared to leave New York like so many others before us: tired and hung-over, waiting for a Greyhound bus, feeling scummier with every minute spent in Port Authority. As we waited for the bus that would take us towards more sensible, less seductive places we felt as probably everyone feels leaving New York: desperation to put it off, to stay another day and wring a little more from the city. Even with blistered feet and banging headaches we wanted nothing more than to skip the bus, rise out of the station and rush headfirst back onto the street above, back into the city and experience it all again.
Next stop: Pittsburgh