A bite of the apple

You know, I think the reason I had such a hard time envisaging living in New York is because it’s just so damn huge. The ubiquitous grid system in the USA is fine when you have smaller cities, because the neighbourhoods are necessarily smaller and more concentrated, but in New York the streets go on for miles and miles and miles, meaning that the various areas are spread out over distances that challenge the usual perception of character, and the gradients of change are subtle. To put it another way, you spend so long in one neighbourhood that you kind of don’t realise you’re in it.

The other thing is that I really didn’t see enough of New York. I mean, I was never going to and I don’t feel like I was short-changed or the like, but it’s really a place that you probably have to live in to know if you like living there. It’s certainly got a unique brand of lifestyle – fast, edgy, highly strung, and infectious. Akilae’s flatmate was saying how, since moving here a little over a year ago, she can no longer bear to stand in line at the subway and has to suppress the urge to barge her way through. It’s all here, floating around: lots of energy and a not inconsiderable amount of pent-up aggression. For instance, my final day started off with being yelled at for offering my seat on the subway. You have to smile.

I made my merry way to the Rockefeller Plaza, that impressively vast complex of limestone and artistry, and wasted no time in going to the top. En route, they had done a decent job of cobbling together a fairly compelling account of the audaciously hubristic undertaking. The center was built without a main client, in the middle of the great depression, and on one of the grandest scales ever seen. An unparalleled team of architects agreed to work together to design, build, and decorate this elegant monument, which featured some of the most groundbreaking infrastructural innovations ever seen as well as a breathtaking array of art. This was largely thanks to Rockefeller’s wife, who believed that art had an important role to play in the zeitgeist.

Next to the central tower sits the Radio City building (Regina Spektor is playing there soon, go see her!), which has a fascinating history itself, but I’ve dwelled enough on that stuff already.

The sun was feeling co-operative as I ascended to the Top Of The Rock, and lit up the island of Manhattan below me. Quite, quite breathtaking.

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It really gives you a sense of scale to see the streets like that, threads nestled in between vast duplo blocks of steel and stone. I received on that rooftop a clearer sense of the city at that point than I had at any other time. Hard to explain. An urban connection.

I turned north to Central Park. It’s a very interesting contrast to the tamed and gentle Royal ones in London; the place was envisaged as a space entirely on its own grounds, a wilderness in the middle of a metropolis. Therefore, there are waterfalls. There are large boulders. There are, indeed, brambles and thickets. It’s very surreal if you’re not used to it. Sunk below street level as the park is, New York simply – but for a few lonesome spires peering over the treeline – disappears. Much of the good work that is done here is down to the donation-funded Conservancy Agency, who really make the difference. There was a particularly sad-looking shot of the Mall in 1991, almost unrecognizable from the rather splendid boulevard today.

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Wending toward the center of the park, I eventually cut west into Strawberry Fields, which hopefully is a reference not lost on you all. A modest but evocative mosaic at the crux of the teardrop-shaped garden bears the simple slogan:

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To finish the recountable part of my day (in the evening I went out for drinks, which was very nice but not particularly riveting for purposes of story), I wandered down into the coagulant drum-like heart of Times Square.

It’s an all-out sensory assault, it really is. I timed my day to arrive there at just before sundown, that I might sit quietly at the side of the mayhem and watch the Crossroads of the World zip by. There was a great deal to see: street artists, drummers, and even a proper authentic poetry recital and lecture. And this, of course, isn’t even accounting for the billboards that plaster every single cubic inch of visual real estate. Some boards are just a company name – just being there is enough. As the spherical countdown clock glowed above the main corner, and the evening flared orange against the neon, it seemed only a matter of time until they cover the sky.

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And that was New York, more or less. I must say I found a much broader appreciation of it on this third day. Prior to this I fell, perhaps, a victim to my own hype. I might have expected too much and been bemused by mere greatness. But the third day, that view from the top of the tower, that set me straight. This enigmatic city… Although I hadn’t nearly enough time to explore everything I wanted to, I’ve seen enough of the place to guarantee my return at some point in the future, to try to tease out its secrets and subtle flavours, to wander around the less famous parts and find out that maybe, just maybe, I ? NY.

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1 Response to “A bite of the apple”


  1. 1 Renée 03/10/2009 at 12:43 am

    Well, I waited to comment so as to avoid cursing your blog entry. But apparently, it was a forecasted curse. 😉 Nice summation of NYC.


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