To live in New York City is to live in the world, even for just two weeks.
And how I loved my ringside seat to the greatest show on earth.
So even though it’s snowing, I set out to people-watch – women in furs and parkas, men flapping about in overcoats, artist types, weirdos, dog-walkers dragged by dozens of pooches.
With luck, you might even catch exotics on the hoof – a llama poking his head out of a car in Broadway, or a lady leading a reindeer with a full rack of antlers down 51st Street. The locals don’t even bat an eyelash. Makes me wonder if I can get away with walking a tiger in Central Park.
Celebrities abound too. You run into them in SoHo cafes, like Madonna, without make-up. You find yourself strolling abreast Hollywood stars at the High Line on your way to Chelsea. But you don’t stare. You try to pass off as a New Yorker and show you don’t care.
It’s free to look at everything anyway.
The buildings intrigued me, too, from gothic and byzantine to art deco; the textures – schist, marble, sandstone, brick, iron and wood; the colors; the so many ghosts – traces of century-old signboards and others that new owners failed to obliterate as the city constantly tore down structures, reclaiming and reinventing itself.
One Georgian-styled red-brick building I stumbled in Downtown, near the Hudson River, the Jane Hotel, catered to sailors in 1906 before it housed Titanic survivors in 1912 and turned out to be a NYC landmark.
Titanic, the largest ship of its time, collided with an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to NYC, killing 1,500 people onboard – including some of the world’s richest.
The Jane’s interior resembles a menagerie – stuffed monkey bellhops, a mountain sheep over the hearth, taxidermed peacocks. Vaguely, I wondered what use they have for a clock with reverse numbers and an ancient vault on the foyer. The ballroom has been converted into an Off-Broadway theater.
Midtown, I found myself at the doorway of my favorite NY skyscraper – the Chrysler – a modernist’s architectural masterpiece – dubbed as the most imaginative in America, with its fanciful spire. Too bad I can’t go beyond the foyer without a building ID. Still, I managed to photograph the red-veined African marble lobby.
Just a few steps away, Grand Central Terminal churned out commuters. It’s one of the busiest train stations on earth and for me, the prettiest, with a 13-foot Tiffany clock ringed by classic statues on its facade and a ceiling mural of the Zodiac.
Wandering aimlessly, I also found the 180-year old Byzantine church of St. Bartholomew, not far from the Gothic St. Patrick’s of the 330-foot spires and 19 bells, each named after a saint.
I would have loved to browse at the NY Public Library, though I can speed-read only a few of its 36 million books and manuscripts. I’d have searched for the stuffed bear that inspired Winnie the Pooh, Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s Farewell Speech to the Nation. But I was out of time.
Often, I passed by Central Park but never lingered. Once, I watched a flock of Canada geese flying over the still-naked trees and yearned to spot some of the city’s 20 mated pairs of skyscraper-nesting peregrines.
I did drop by the United Nations headquarters, an 18-acre international territory owned by its 193 member nations, had a fleeting glimpse of Lincoln’s Center and saw its famous chandeliers. Next time, I’ll watch performances at the Metropolitan Opera and NY State Ballet.
Curious about the place where NYC was born, I explored Lower Manhattan and its twisted streets, where the oldest and newest buildings battle for space.
Dutchman Peter Minuit bought the island of Man-a-hatt-ta from Algonquin Indians for $24 worth of beads half a thousand years ago. When the latter realized they’ve made a poor bargain, they attacked the Dutch who fortified the city with a wall – what is now known as Wall Street.
Beaver St. was once a center for trading beaver pelts and Pearl St. was paved with oyster shells.
But the Woolworth Building remains as the grand old man in these parts. It was the world’s tallest almost a hundred years ago.
The Gothic lobby shows a grotesque of the owner, Frank Woolworth, counting his nickels and coins like Midas. He paid for the building for $13.5 million, cold cash. Now, they are renovating its floors, selling them as apartments, worth $60 million each.
In SoHo, factory buildings converted to artist’s lofts with huge windows come cheaper, at $5 million per unit.
Near the tip of Lower Manhattan, I visited the September 11, 2001 Memorial honoring the 3,000 killed in the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center.
Twin eternity fountains cascade into a central void where the former foundation posts of the two towers once stood. The victims’ names are inscribed on the bronze parapets around them. A Callery Pear, burned to stump in the attack and now recovered, towers 30 feet tall within Ground Zero and goes by the name of “Survivor Tree”.
(To be continued…)