I wrote about my North America trip last year when I was still on the road. I edited some of the entries later, adding some reflections and interpretations. But I omitted two stops on my itinerary – a brief visit to New Jersey and three days in New York. The reason for this was that I left immediately after, and I was too busy to keep blogging after I returned to Lithuania. Also, visiting the West Coast was my primary aim, so it was my priority to blog about San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Seattle and Vancouver.
I was lucky to find lovely hosts with the help of my friend V., who also came from Toronto for a visit. The day I arrived was the 4th of July, so both of us, plus my friends J. and B., who were also in NYC, arranged to get together and watch the fireworks. I got a lift from my New Jersey hosts (I’ll blog about the day with them later), and they first took me to Brooklyn Bridge and then to Ground Zero. I had the luck to be taken to NYC’s main touristic objects by car. Let’s take a non-iconic view.
You must have seen someone stopping a cab in the middle of the bridge in some movie.
Into the web…
The place where the twin towers used to stand was hectic, with lots of tourists, some rushing to buy tickets to see an exhibition, and lots of people rushing past. Then time came to meet my hosts. They live in a cozy apartment close enough to a metro station, but… with only one AC. It took some effort to go back into the heat. Yet at least there things to discover out there. For example, I learned that there are Kinokuniya stores in New York.
There were also these people playing music in parks…
NYC was built to be easy to navigate – streets are usually numbered and not named. Nonetheless, for me it made it difficult to agree on a place on the phone – it turns out that I lacked short-term memory for numbers of streets. It was a bit exotic to me that Americans use voice mail so much. For me the most obvious thing is to text, because an SMS can be read any time, and it ensures that the receiver will get the spelling right. But cellphone operators charge for receiving SMS (what??), so no wonder there are all those start-ups developing apps to avoid that.
Anyway, through the web of numbered streets, we finally made it to the coast to watch the fireworks. And when I say ‘watch’, I mean, look at the sky. When many of the locals say ‘watch’, they mean look at their tiny cellphone screen.
The next day I agreed to meet with a couchsurfer at the Central Park.
I didn’t need a host, but I wrote to a few people just to expand my circle of local contacts. I was very happy with the meeting, as we found many things in common, and I had a relaxing afternoon just chatting and people-watching. We saw someone doing a headstand, and even a bride, a groom and all their guests jogging. We made the compulsory Mexican food pilgrimage, and then she showed me the main Apple store. Not that the place is particularly interesting in itself, but as a phenomenon, it certainly is. There are people testing products and just hanging out. It is air-conditioned, there are bathrooms and a wi-fi, so of course I didn’t miss a chance to get online and proudly take a photo with my Nokia Lumia. I don’t like Apple.
Next, we went to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), just because it was free that day. I wasn’t planning on visiting museums, but I’m a big fan of free stuff. The classical modern art exhibition at the top floors was great, but by the time we got there we got tired both physically and mentally, from lots of crappy contemporary art that we saw, and a few good works that we liked.
In the evening, having said goodbye to the CSer, my other friends and I went to a Belgian bar. I got to speak a bit of French with its French waitress, and V. got totally fascinated with the Kwak glass. Now I work for an institution that does academic research on images of distant cultures, so it was valuable to see what is imagined as European.
After another night of heat and mosquitoes, my last full day came. I walked around the neighborhood, allowing myself to rest in its parks. As someone told me earlier, Newyorkers will squeeze in a little patch of grass wherever they can.
I got to see two places that I will certainly remember. One is Chelsea Market (although the market in Seattle is more impressive).
The other one is High Line park, created by reclaiming an abandoned railway station and tracks. Now it’s full of green plants and art. So far my favorite place in NYC.
This would also work in Tel Aviv.
Of course, I’ve taken pictures of many other things, yellow cabs, steel-and-glass buildings, and great Asian food. But you’ve seen those countless times.
Just before I left, my friends took me to an IT shop with all-Hassidic staff. Extremely bizarre. Sorry about objectifying this person.
Time came to leave the place. Flying out of Newark airport beat all my Ryanair experiences combined. After 1.5 hour lining up for security check with, it seems, no AC, just a small fan close to the end of the line, came that iconic moment when around 20 people placed their belts and watches on an extremely slow scanner and walked barefoot towards the body scanner, one by one lifting their arms like in action movies – tired, stressed, humiliated, stripped and forever guilty of one crime – traveling.
There are lots of things I didn’t see or experience. There is a graffiti park, an impressive ocean shore, the ‘Russian’ beach, the famous music scene and so on. I didn’t pressure myself, because I guess, unless something in the world changes fundamentally, I’ll get a chance to visit here again. I left with mixed feelings. This is a hub where many of my North American friends live or ultimately want to live. I had heard so much about the cultural life. But in most places I had an impression that I had already seen it before, and I didn’t find anything that would impress or inspire me. When visiting objects I liked, I could recall similar objects on the West Coast. Perhaps NYC is a city to live – not to see (like Brussels is). Here’s a nice series of animated pictures about life in NYC.