Sunday, November 11, 2012

New york city (part two of four)

Cycling central park

The next morning, a sunny Sunday, we went out and hired a pair of bikes to ride around in Central Park, one of the activities that had been on the top of my list ever since Amy told me she did it back home. 

Making strides

This Sunday happened to be the day of the massive 'Making Strides' charity walk in aid of breast cancer, with thousands of people marching through the park bedecked in pink. It was sort of annoying because they took up so much of the roads to which we were supposed to be confined, and I have complex feelings about breast cancer charities and events as it is, and they were also so obnoxiously American, cheering themselves on and being cheered on by volunteers chanting, 'Go walkers, go walkers!' 

Charity walkers in the distance.

But it was also a spectacle, and it was really heartwarming to see some of the women with 'Breast Cancer Survivor – eleven years' being cheered and having a moment of recognition and solidarity. 

Art and entertainment in the park

For breakfast we went to a kiosk in the middle of the park on the water, eating on some benches, too anxious to go into the restaurant area with or without our bikes. We then went down the 'literary walk', watched over by statues of literary luminaries from throughout history. I love this. Further to what I was saying in my last post about a culture that values literature, I was struck by literature's place in the park. It seems to have been given an uncommon significance. On top of the literary walk, there's a Shakespeare garden where different flowers are accompanied by quotes about those flowers from different Shakespeare plays and sonnets, as well as a number of other statues of famous children's writers. 

The Alice's Adventures in Wonderland sculpture, always too covered in children to get a clear photo.

Hans Christian Andersen memorial.

Shakespeare garden.

And further to what I was saying about walking around and seeing places you've heard about or seen in media, this effect was especially pronounced in Central Park, where I caught glimpses of places I'd seen in heaps of movies like Balto and The Time Machine


At the end of the Literary Walk we found a crowd gathered around a troupe of black guys chanting hypnotially, led by one guy whose proclamations would be met by rehearsed responses from the rest. This was the first of many such performances we would see, all the same and all culminating in a group of three or four onlookers being leapt over by one of the performers. 

One of the performers mid-leap.

Bike repairs

Most of the time during the day for some reason, I would be some way ahead of Til on the bike, then stop and wait for her to catch up. At one point I crested a hill and rode down the other side, then stopped to wait there and she didn't come. I waited for ages until I started to worry she'd had a crash, then went back the other way to find she was walking her bike on the side of the road. The chain had come off. 

I set to getting it back on, but it was jammed and I was a little hesitant to pull too hard and wreck it. Next thing a woman in full pro cyclist regalia rode past and offered assistance, which Til accepted. She eventually managed to yank it out and place it back on the gears before setting off, but as soon as I got on to test it the chain slipped off again and got even more jammed. It was really, really stuck, but I eventually managed it, after casting my man-bracelets off in frustration and resigning myself to grease-blackened hands. 

This is after I cleaned them.

Park memorials

At this point we were looping back over territory we'd already covered on the way to breakfast, but we'd missed some things in our haste to eat, like the John F Kennedy and Jackie Onassis Memorial Reservoir and the John Lennon memorial in Strawberry fields: 

Memorial resevoir.

Squirrel on the way to Strawberry Fields.

Lennon memorial.

And after all that we were about ready for lunch, so we completed the same circuit and came back to the kiosk for soup and fries. 

The lost bracelets and ev'rythin' after

It was after lunch when Til was content to laze in the sun and digest for a time that I remembered my man-bracelets! I'd forgotten to pick them up after I threw them on the ground while fixing Til's bike. It didn't really matter, I supposed. I'm not that attached to them, although it's nice having one from Australia before I left for exchange (the lone survivor of many I set out with), and one from one of those 'string men' in Paris, who just start tying it to you without your consent, telling you it will make you a 'segs masheen' and then ask you to pay them ten euro for the service. But they would just be sitting there, I knew whereabouts, and I didn't want to rest, so I thought I'd just do that same circuit once again to retrieve them and duck straight back. 

How wrong I was. 

Somehow, although this was the third or fourth time I'd done the circuit, I missed the turn-off. It was okay, because it was just a wider loop than I needed to do, but it was a MUCH wider loop, and HALF of it was ENTIRELY UPHILL, and I'd already been riding ALL DAY. So I was not happy. But I was successful in retrieving the bracelets after a few go-overs of the approximate vicinity I dropped them in – they're mostly brown, green, red and yellow, which do not make for easy finding against all the 'byootiful fawl culler' (an expression Til and I have taken to repeating in exaggerated American accents). 

But this was only the beginning of my trials. Having retrieved what I sought, I thought it would probably be easier/quicker to go back in the direction I came rather than completing the full circuit again to get back to where Tilly was. It had taken me AGES to get there, but I thought that was only because I'd missed the turnoff and gone the wrong way. Surely it'd be quicker if I took the right turnoff. 

Well, no. It turns out my anticipation of distance was way the hell off, I think because the previous times we'd done the loop we hadn't really been trying to get anywhere, so it hadn't felt as long as it was. It turned out it would take me AGES to get back and I would've been MUCH better off seeing out the full circuit which would've been mostly downhill. 

But off I set, unaware of this fact. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of bike traffic coming towards me, and it was hard to carve out a lane where I wouldn't collide with anyone. I tried to stick to the right but people weren't getting out of the way, so at one point I had to veer out into the middle where there was a gap. The gap, however, was soon to be filled by a very aggressive and obsessive-looking cyclist, who yelled 'What the fuck are you doing!?' at me as he turned sharply to avoid me. 

'Ask all these people on the wrong side of the road!' I felt like shooting back over my shoulder. But lucky I didn't, because it was then that I started to wonder if this might be a one-way road. Surely not! I thought. Surely I would've noticed by now, the third time I had ridden it, if no one was ever coming in the opposite direction. Surely they wouldn't designate a road big enough for two car lanes as well as two bike lanes a one-way road! What would be the point? 

No, and stop calling me Shirley. 

But then I saw a one-way sign and my worst fears were confirmed. Til was probably already wondering what the hell was taking me so long; I was too far gone to turn back and do the whole circuit the other way, so I had to endure dirty looks the entire way back to where I left her. Oh, the shame. 

Leaving the park

Next we sat by the boatpond (from Stuart Little, might I add) and I consoled myself while Til lined up in an absurd bathroom queue. It was nearly time to leave, and in my determination not to do that god damned circuit AGAIN I led us to some obscure corner of the park miles from where we needed to be, and we ended up having to anyway. But it was still a beautiful day. One of the best things we did. 

Liberty and ellis islands

We had saved Liberty and Ellis Islands for Monday in the hopes of avoiding ridiculous queues, to no avail, although it was probably still better than if we had've gone on the weekend.

Enjoying some of the local cuisine for breakfast while in the queue.

A very small part of the gargantuan queue. And a guy in the foreground wondering why I'm taking his picture.

Korean war memorial near the queue on which our flag is displayed prominently ... 

An evocative monument to dock workers.

Photographic tactics

On the ferry, we rushed up to the exposed top deck hoping to get a good spot from which to photograph Lady Liberty (along with everybody else). Up top, everyone was filling the seats on the port side of the boat which was facing the statue. However, using only the powers of observation and deduction, I was able to conclude that in the act of turning towards the statue, it would be starboard that would afford us the best view! And afford us it did – we went a bit crazy getting pictures from every angle and distance possible, and now we could make quite a good little flipbook of the whole approach. 

The fools on port as viewed from our superior position on starboard.

Lady Liberty.

Out of a bad sitcom/movie: Luke and Tilly in the Big City!

There wasn't much to see or do on Liberty Island apart from take photos with the statue. We also got some snaps of the cool statues that commemorate the donors who funded the Statue of Liberty project, which is actually a really interesting story, full of interesting historical figures. We had lunch with a beautiful view of the bay, though, and I had my first bad American soup experience (all of which were all the more traumatic for having just come from the delicious soups of England). It was basically just a bowl of cheese sauce. Yugh. 

From sea to shining sea.



A short dialogue between norway and america

Oh, and of course we mustn't forget the most exciting part of all, the chunk of copper from the mine where the material for the statue was quarried, given as a gift from Norway to the USA and plonked unceremoniously in a random corner of the island.

You can really imagine the scene: 

NORWAY: Here you go, America, I got you this! 

AMERICA: Oh gee thanks, Norway. You shouldn't have … Uhhh. What is it? 

NORWAY: It's a chunk of copper from the mine where the material comprising the Statue of Liberty was mined! 

AMERICA: Ohhhh … Wow, it's what I always wanted. I'll just stick this ... Here. 

More like meh-llis island

Next up was the utterly pointless Ellis Island, the site of a former immigration centre which now calls itself a museum, although they have no artifacts or items of interest … It's basically just a bunch of large panels with information about American immigration history on them which you walk around reading. Interesting, but you might as well be reading a history textbook. And yet Tilly insisted upon reading them all and then got cranky at me 'cause I rushed her through. 

The best part of Ellis Island: leaving.

Election fever

That night we went to dinner at Michelin-star vegetarian restaurant Dovetail and had an incredible four-course meal, then headed to the Library Bar in the Hudson Hotel to watch the third and final presidential debate while sipping appropriately themed cocktails – the 'Donkey' and the 'Mint Romney'. 

It was cool to be in New York in the lead-up to the election. There was constant, no, incessant discussion about it in the news and on TV, and people selling Obama 'merchandise' out on the street (we both bought an Obama badge as a souvenir and to show our support for the only sensible option).

From an outside perspective and even in America before the campaign commenced, it always seemed obvious that Obama would win again. There was a sense that Mitt Romney wasn't enough of a challenger to oust him. But being there for the run-up to the election it became clear how the media machine makes it a contest. From a distance it is clear, but when you get up close, you're constantly being presented with two options which are offered as equally valid or possible. The media has a spot to spare for a credible challenger, and whether the nominee is credible or not, their occupation of that spot eventually makes them one. 

Thank god Obama won, though.

Til looking stunning on the way back from the bar.

The Met

The next day was poor weather again, so it was off to another museum, this time the colossal Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I was blown away by the Egyptian wing. In all the major world museums I've been to so far in London and Paris and so on, I'd been sniffing about desperately for a skerrick about the eighteenth dynasty ancient Egyptian pharaoh queen Hatshepsut, who was one of my favourite topics in year twelve Ancient History. Well it turned out the Metropolitan Museum of Art had been the museum that carried out the excavations at Hatshepshut's mortuary temple Deir el Bahari, where the 'Hatshepshut hole' full of her defaced statuary was discovered. Consequently, they had an entire ROOM of Hatshepsut statues, as well as extensive collections from the reign of Hatshepsut's co-ruler Thutmosis III and the infamous iconoclast Akhenaten. Here I got my retribution on Til for reading all the immigration museum panels by reading every single panel in these rooms, and by taking a hundred thousand photos.

On the way to the museum: catchy street name.

With Hatshepsut.

My favourite statue of her, striking a balance between feminine features and standard pharaonic regalia and physiognomy.

But apart from having a lot of space dedicated to all my favourite pharaohs, the Met was just generally a really good museum (the ethics of plundering the historical artifacts of other nations aside). They had about three entire actual Egyptian tombs you could walk through, one of them situated in a massive chamber, surrounded by a moat and various Egyptian statues. 

A remarkibly expressive Egyptian statue. Almost looks like an emoticon.

A sign in the sculpture section explained that it had just undergone a reorganisation to appeal to the interest of modern audiences, and I think they really succeeded. It was like walking through the stone garden in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: it really evoked a sense of wonder and allowed you to appreciate each sculpture individually as you made your way through. 

Randolph Rogers' Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii

We also spent a lot of time admiring the swords, armor and weaponry 'cause that shit is cool, and the Met has an unrivalled selection. 

We got to see loads of paintings and sculptures, both famous and beautiful, as well as a really cool Andy Warhol exhibit comparing his works to those of other artists to accentuate his seminal influence on later artists. 

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's Princess de Broglie. I can't believe the dress! 

 Comte Prosper d'Épinay's Sappho.

Jules Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc.

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker.

Claude Monet's The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog). We also saw another one of these in the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.

Henry Lerolle's The Organ Rehearsal

Jules Joseph Lefebvre's Graziella.

Warhol's silver balloons and cow wallpaper.

Outside the Met once it had closed, we were sitting on the steps resting our feet before the trek back to our hostel through Central Park when a saxophonist began playing energetically in front of the crowd of people also on the steps, running up and down the pavement while playing. At first I groaned to Til because he was demanding our attention and we'd have to clap when he finished songs or it'd be awkward, but he soon won me over with his rendition of the Chinese national anthem (on request by a bunch of patriotic Chinese tourists) and of Beyonce's 'Single Ladies', replete with a parody of that stupid hand movement that all girls were obsessed with for a while after the song came out ('It's so cool, I love that hand thing she does!' *Fails at replicating said hand movement*). So long story short, I gave him all my change. All my infuriating American change. They don't have big numbers on them like ours, so you have to search for ages for the value, and once you find it its not a number value – it's a stupid word like 'nickel' or 'dime' or 'quarter', so the actual value of the money is at one further remove, AND of course they still make ridiculous one and two cent pieces. 

9/11 memorial

On Wednesday we went to the very emotional Ground Zero memorial, which is still under construction. It's a really good memorial, I think, aptly (if unsubtly) named 'Reflecting Absence'. It's essentially two giant holes in the ground over the foundations of the former World Trade Center, into which rushes water, which then disappears into a central void. The use of negative space rather than a penetrative, upward-oriented monument is always good for loss, and the use of water of course evokes both tears and healing. Ringing each of the pools are metallic boards featuring the names of those who died in the September 11 and 1993 attacks, thankfully devoid of defacement or graffiti, and touchingly arranged in 'meaningful adjacencies' in response to requests from family and friends. The victims of each crashed flight and each building are displayed together, but each name is also placed near the names of close colleagues and friends, which I find really touching. Each name is also given a great deal of space, emphasising the humanity of each of them, and consequently the scale of the tragedy as you circumnavigate each pool and the list of names continues relentlessly on. Nothing like the war memorials with hundreds of names listed so closely together you can't even read them in depersonalised alphabetical order.

One WTC disappearing into the clouds.

The survivor tree. 

One thing that made us cringe was people getting photos in front of the pools and smiling, turning it into just one more tourist attraction to be ticked off the list. Of course, that's what it is in some ways, but I think you really need to go there to pay your respects and be solemn and reflect …  

After that we went for a walk down Wall Street feeling a bit depressed, then stopped in a diner for lunch, where we had our second soup fail. We both ordered French onion soup and were disappointed to be served tiny little bowls, only half full of watery, tasteless soup hidden beneath a thoroughly sodden chunk of bread (perhaps Tilly's greatest food phobia) and a congealed mass of mozzarella cheese. It was pretty foul. 

American mexican

'Oh, this shall keep me safe from the hot Mexican sun.'

Luckily that night we were in for finer fare, when we met up with our friend Jill, a New Jersey–born New Yorker who we met on a tour and went for lunch with when we were in Berlin last year. She'd seen we were headed for New York on Facebook and suggested we meet up, so we met her and her boyfriend Ben near their very impressive campus at Columbia university where they study Law, and went for dinner at their hidden-gem, authentic Mexican restaurant, the location or name of which I cannot divulge on pain of death. 

We spent a lot of time discussing the things people from different countries discuss; you know, American politics, accents, languages, travel stories, etc guacamole they make right in front of you and incredible quesadillas. And on top of that, Jill offered to take us to a bona fide American Halloween Party that Saturday, which we were stoked for. It'd been long enough since we'd been to a house party, aside from the fact that it was an actual US Halloween Party! 

The west village

The next day we didn't leave the hotel until night-time, 'cause we needed time to plan the rest of our trip. Up until then we'd been leaving the hotel every morning and not returning until the night, too exhausted to accomplish anything. Once everything was sorted we went to dinner at a legendary falafel place across town and ended up going on an epic wander through the trendy West Village. Here we saw the apartment block they used for the external shots in Friends, to Til's delight, as well as a monument to gay and lesbian rights in a tiny triangular park. 

Before                                                After

An amusing ad.


We kept wandering until we came to a bigger park full of people where the energy was almost frenetic. I loved this about New York – there are always people around, even in a random park late at night. We just hung out on the rim of this dry fountain talking, people-watching and eavesdropping on people's conversations. 

On the way back to the subway station Tilly was desperately craving gelato, and it seemed all hope was lost because we were upon the station, but then we miraculously spotted one and went in.

A comedy of salads

Very late that night once we were back at home and Til was already asleep, I was overtaken by ravenous hunger, having a craving myself for a salad sandwich, possibly because they form a staple of my diet back home and my diet had comprised exceptionally few vegetables since leaving Australia. So off I went once again to the wondrously 24-hour Westside Market, where I hoped to procure such a delight. 

I hovered past the in-store deli a few times, trying to decide whether it closed after a certain time or not, when I finally worked up the courage to interrupt the guys talking behind the counter and ask. 

'Nah sorry, it's closed', he said. 

'Closed, okay that's cool', I said, going to leave. 

'Just kidding', he said, and asked me what I was after. 

'I just want a sandwich with like, salad and cheese', I answered. 

'Salad and cheese? Okay, we can do that', he chirped. 'You vegetarian?' he asked. I told him I was and he said he tried it, but he went cold turkey instead of phasing it out like you're s'posed to and couldn’t stick to it. 

'You saw what they did to the animals, right?'


'Yeah, it's no good', he said. 

I watched as he started to pile on lettuce leaf after lettuce leaf. And then slice after slice of cheese. Slice after slice after slice. 

As he kept layering he said, 'So you really enjoy just salad and cheese?' 

'Yeah!' I said, 'If it’s done right! We’ll wait and see when you’re done.' 

We laughed and he put the lid of the roll on and went to cut it when I realised there may have been a bit of cultural misunderstanding. 

'Wait', I said. 'When I say "salad", does that mean …? In Australia that would mean like, all vegetables, not just lettuce.' 

He laughed again and assured me I could have all the vegetables I liked. Now I saw why he was so incredulous that I just wanted 'salad' and cheese. 

Just look at the motherflipping stratigraphy on this bad boy. That's like, NINE layers of cheese!

(To be continued).

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