The emboldening Statue of Liberty, the majestic Empire State Building and some lucky lady delighting in the age old tradition of eating strawberry cheese cake amidst a sea of yellow cabs: this is what so many of us perceive New York to be. This past weekend I set off with two of my friends from Bolivia, Carla and Alison Saavedra, to discover if this were true.
We fulfilled a large amount of the items on our bucket list. Here is a sample of some of them:
See a broad way show: TICK (We saw the Phantom of the Opera, it was spectacular! Tip: look on line if you want to get the best deals. We got fairly good seats for like US$47.00! Normally they are $120.00).
Selfie in times square: TICK (Tip: watch for pickpockets as your eyes are distracted by the flashy lights).
Cucumber sandwiches with Donald Trump in Trump Tower: AVOIDED (Can you blame us? Besides, the old geezer was out of town anyway).
A photo with the Statue of Liberty: TICK (Well, kind of. You see if you take the Staten Island ferry its free, but the downside is that the ferry passes by Liberty Island from quite a distance).
A photo with the 'Wall Street Bull' by sculptor Arturo Di Modica: TICK. (This very realistic sculpture is said to represent the testosterone of the American economists and stock brokers. Considering the American economy is 19 trillion dollars in debt I wonder whether a large "I O U" sculpture would be more appropriate?)
Try a New York street vendor's hot dog: TICK. (Tried it?! After 2 paracetamol, a litre of water and a 30 minute rest in the nearby MET museum, its probably more appropriate to say that I survived the experience... I think the sausage wasn't cooked properly? Frank Sinatra sang in his famous song New York, New York that, "If you can make it there you can make it anywhere". I wonder if the same applies in a culinary sense?)
Hit up some of New York's famous art/museums: TICK, TICK and TICK again. ( We visited the Guggenheim Art Gallery; housing the legendary Thannhauser Collection, the Museum of Natural History; where the movie 'Night at the Museum' was set, and the Metropolitan Museum. The Guggenheim art gallery prides itself in displaying art with meaning so hidden that even Alan Turing and the experts who decoded the enigma machine during WWII would fail to decipher even the simplest abstract work exhibited. The New York Metropolitan Museum, otherwise known as the MET, was my favorite by far. In one afternoon we were able to peer upon the mystical face of an Egyptian Pharaoh's death mask and then admire the works of the classical artists Renoir, van Gogh and Monet, among others. All this, just for a small donation!)
Have afternoon tea with Big Bird: FAIL. (We couldn't find it! But can you tell me how? Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street? Actually, come to think of it, I did see a big bird, hanging upside down in a front window down New York's famous Canal Street, Chinatown).
OK. So, I managed to accomplish the majority of the things on the to do list. But does that mean that I have really experienced the city? No. Not at all. Taking a photo with the Statue of Liberty or eating cheese cake in Time's Square doesn't make one anymore acquainted with New York than does thinking you know the intricacies of a 1000 page book's plot by scanning its back blurb. To know a city one has to live there. One has to interact with the people. After all, it is the people that are the soul of a city and not the empty edifices of its surrounds. The highlights of my time in New York were none of the above. The real highlights were the brief and momentary interactions I shared with everyday, metro riding New Yorker's. A glance. A smirk. A G'day. A simple time of small talk with a hotel clerk about the poor weather. Sharing a joke with a homeless man who was singing desperately outside the Guggenheim, as the fluffy white snow drifted carelessly down his neck, a neck that probably hadn't laid on a soft pillow since Ronald Reagan was President. Having the hairs of my neck stand on end upon hearing how Justin our hostel attendant's father just happened not to make it to his office the morning of 9/11.
Shouted lunch by a kind family of Bolivian first generation Americans in an Ecuadorian restaurant in Queens whilst listening to how the father, Lucho, slowly made his way to the top. Attending a non-denominational church service in central Brooklyn with a room full of strangers that felt like long lost family. This was New York for me.
I'll have to go back another time to read the other 900 pages...