Lost Weekend: New York City
report by Susu, photos by Wraith6
The Big Apple ... the Great White Way ... the City That Never Sleeps ...
Few places have the legend and myth (or even the funny nicknames!) of this most cosmopolitan of cities. No matter what your opinion of it, other cities seem to knock themselves out competing with, or trying to be, New York.
Consisting of five boroughs, the city is actually an amalgamated territory. Each borough was formerly a city or county, thus they can have different names, depending on how you think of them. For instance, Brooklyn, once the US's fourth largest city, is also called Kings County (to match northern neighbor, Queens County). The borough of Staten Island is Richmond County, and Manhattan is New York County. The Bronx was once wholly owned by Dutchman Johann Bronk, thus its the only borough preceded by an article: "The Bronk's" which became "the Bronx."
But when locals refer to "the City," they are talking about the island of Manhattan, specifically the uptown, midtown and downtown areas, which includes the famous Financial District surrounding Wall Street and the former World Trade Center towers. This is where the daytime population swells from 3 million to 10 million. The skyline sparks everyone's imagination. The needle-like buildings house the financial and business minds and gears that seem to affect every other business around the world.
When you come here, you feel the bustle, the energy. You can see the money, see the fashion and glamour. Many think NYC is not a big deal, that their own metropolises could survive without it, that they are just as good! They are wrong. There's just so much happening here, of a huge variety. It's probably the only place in America where the 'melting pot' concept is actually a living, breathing thing. In most places, its not so much a melting pot as a stew pot with big, separate chunky bits in a common gravy.
After six hours of delays due to weather, we finally got to fly into town, famished. Fortunately, there is no shortage of places open 24-hours. But if you're going, why not go to a good place? Empire Diner was our hash house of choice that night. We took the scenic drive through one of the cross-town roadways intersecting Central Park, gazing at the lights of Tavern on the Green (where trees are wrapped and rewrapped in twinkling white lights all year round and hung with Chinese lanterns in the summer), and passing the Victorian era structures lining the road within Central Park itself.
We did the de rigeur ethnic neighborhood hop to Chinatown and to Little Italy. Chinatown is simply a place to live and work for many Chinese and non-Chinese. It's expanding into Little Italy, which is relatively bereft of the Neopolitans and Sicilians from the old days -- they tend to live elsewhere -- Staten Island, Brooklyn, New Jersey, mostly -- but shops and restaurants are still run the way Mama and Papa did.
On weekends, Mulberry Street, part Chinese, part Italian, becomes an open-air mall. Restaurants set table service on the sidewalks, shops sell on the streets. There is a Franciscan brotherhood on the street, and they sell jewelry and devotional items imported from Italy. The prices are great, the souvenirs funky. The food is great, of course. We went to Ferrara's Café, HSF for dim sum, and Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, for sustenance and refreshment. Restaurants are packed cheek by jowl everywhere, no need to fear going hungry in the desert!
We evaded and rode alongside yellow cabs all weekend -- as reckless as they seem to be when you see them driving along, they seem even more so when you are inside! We took subways, buses and cabs, depending on our mood and the situation. But believe it or not, the cab rides were economical, quick, mostly air conditioned and we didn't get into any accidents! It was very nice to have a choice, and not have to drive or try to find parking on the sunny, cluttered city streets.
We cabbed up to Rockefeller Center, to visit the Pokémon Center Store, Sharper Image, Brookstone, the Metropolitan Museum Shop and to go to the bathroom. Underneath the massive complex of socialist-era sculpture and concrete buildings are shops, eateries and tunnels to get everywhere. There is a nicely-maintained bathroom there! I don't understand why U.S, cities don't offer public facilities like New Zealand, Australia and other places do. Downright uncivilized! However, the private sector does do their part here and takes up the slack. You just need to know where they are hidden! To access it, you can use the on-street elevator, or enter the office buildings and find the staircases heading down.
The concourse is air-conditioned, too. Every building in the hot, sticky city basically is, but we note it because of the vents in the buildings -- they are placed decoratively in the columns, narrow slits that are part of the interior design. We'd have never know it, but one of us leaned against the wall-like column and got zapped with a cold breeze! There's a photo of one of us pressed against it, hogging the cold air!
The Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, in the shadow of the NBC tower, turns into an al fresco dining experience in summer, under large white beach umbrellas. The famous golden statue of Prometheus, humankind's sort of patron saint, stands guard while diners sip and nibble. (The model for this sculpture died only recently, at a grand old age of 96 or so!)
The Sharper Image displayed C3PO and R2D2 in one of its show windows. We think the Jawas captured them again and sold 'em for a profit this time, considering their price tags! We enjoyed playing with stuff, like the "personal body cooler" -- a sort of collar that's chilled and supposedly makes the air feel about 10 degrees cooler. Didn't work for us ... but maybe we expected too much. There were no snowflakes or anything! Not even a penguin! Our other favorite was the loveseat modeled out of the back seat of an old Cadillac, fins and all! And we liked the big, fish-shaped wading pool. (Saw Wayne Knight -- who played Norm in "Seinfeld" and Dennis Nedry, the fat computer dork / asshole / traitor of Jurassic Park (the first one) -- looking at the personal body coolers and portable mini-fridges, too!) Rival store Brookstone provided a nice, cool, comfy seat when we got too footsore, and interesting displays of alternative golf paraphernalia.
The Pokémon Center Store is relatively new. They even sell Pikachu stuff for adults -- did you know there is a Pokémon Cooking Club? You can't buy any recipes for charred Charizard, but there are plates, cups, teatowels, hotmats, wall hangings, etc. There are also sunglasses (their display made the sunglasses look like animated bugs!), a huge Pokédex and gaming rooms. You can also take your Gameboy to the mixer to hook it up and get or trade characters and situations for your games. A tournament and card trading events were going on while we were there -- never saw so many quiet, intent under-10 year olds!
The Museum Store is full of beautiful museum reproductions, notecards, calendars, posters, etc. We found a really cool book with "cut-out and construct" dragons, to hang on a mobile! The city is full of treasures, and we learned to consider stores to me the equivalent of museums in themselves, with purchasable exhibits! We also got our Christmas cards from this place -- the nice ones for the people who don't understand why the GFFA is great (wink!).
Across the street is St. Patrick's Cathedral, the famous 'big house' of Catholic churches in New York. The 5:30 mass (which the board announced was "counted toward Sunday") had just let out, so we were free to roam the interior and point a lot. The space is just so huge, without looking empty. Full of stained glass and statues, memorials, dedications and candles, it was a living church, full of the faithful, even disguised as tourists. It was where Billy Martin, one of the greatest of Yankee managers, laid in state after his tragic death. You can almost feel the tears of mourners over the centuries seeped into the stonework. It's an awesome place, whether you are religious or not, or even Catholic or not, yet has none of that heaviness associated with Rococco or Baroque European church buildings, or even of American Beaux Arts constructions.
We missed the service there, so went to the Church of the Incarnation, a small church on Madison Avenue in the tony Murray Hill district. It's famous for its collection of stained glass windows (including four Tiffanys) and bronze statues depicting former rectors, and one interpretation of a young John the Baptist. It's even more well known for its tough love rector, who brought the church back from the brink of bankruptcy in the 1980s. Today, it fluorishes, and the people who attend have the air of those who survived death and are grateful for it. We got to hold babies over a glass of iced tea in the reception afterwards.
We went to dinner at Park Avenue Cafe and had the best meals ever. We are saving our money to afford another meal there! Then we went home, footsore but sated, and watched Keeping the Faith, an appropriate choice of movie -- about religious boys who are friends; about love; and about New York City. And none of the "yadda" of Seinfeld!
We slept the sleep of the exhausted (thought not necessarily the just) and of those who saw a small chunk of the city at breakneck speed. This is a fun place, just need to know where to go and to trust your tour guides! It will tire you out, guaranteed. We're doing it again!
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