Day 19: New York
They are right when they say that New York is the city that never sleeps. It’s a cacophony of horns and sirens all night long. But it serves to remind me that I am in Nu Yawk! So I jump out of bed and head off eager to explore the city which everyone is so sure I will love.
Walking through the streets, I pass the Empire State Building, the Avenue of the Americas, Bryant Park, Magnolia Bakery, Trump Tower – all things I have heard about, but can now visualise. The streets of New York are easy to navigate, like a huge grid, and there’s so much to see at every turn. Yellow cabs weaving into and out of traffic, New York police directing traffic, steam rising from the sidewalk grids above the subway….and people everywhere.
It’s a warm day, with quite a sticky tinge to it, but it no less makes for a nice day to explore. First stop is Rockefeller Centre.
Rockefeller Centre / Top of The Rock Observation Deck
With the country facing economic catastrophe and the world between two wars, John D. Rockefeller’s vision for his centre never wavered. Rockefeller Center and the observation deck were his gifts to Manhattan- a place for locals and visitors to marvel at the city he loved.
Although Rockefeller spent most of his life engaged in philanthropy, his biggest venture was the creation of the “city within a city” – constructed during the Great Depression’s worst years, the project gainfully employed over 40,000 people. The Rockefeller Center officially opened in May 1933, and during its first decade, the complex bustled with exciting tenants. Throughout the 1930’s, Rockefeller Center steadily improved, including some accidental innovations like the Christmas Tree tradition in 1931 and the skating rink in 1936. By 1939, more than 125,000 people were visiting Rockefeller Center daily; on its own, it would have been the 51st largest city in the U.S.
Part of the Rockefeller Center is Radio City Music Hall. I was surprised to see the line up for Radio City on October 10, because on my flight to the UK, I had watched a documentary called ‘Searching for the Sugar Man”, which was basically about a musician named Rodriguez, who some say was better than Bob Dylan, but whom never achieved any fame in the US at the time, but became a huge star in South Africa. He was surrounded in mythology until a couple of fans tracked him down. It was quite a remarkable story, and good to see that American audiences will now get to see what all the fuss was about.
30 Rock was a television comedy created by Tina Fey. The series’ name refers to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in which the NBC Studios are located. I became a fan of the show after being introduced to it by my sister and brother-in-law (thank you Leigh & Mike) – so here you go guys – a couple of snaps from the real life place….
By the way – Tracy Jordan advertises water on TV.
Central Park was the first landscaped public park in the United States. Advocates of creating the park–primarily wealthy merchants and landowners–admired the public grounds of London and Paris and urged that New York needed a comparable facility to establish its international reputation. A public park would offer their own families an attractive setting for carriage rides and provide working-class New Yorkers with a healthy alternative to the saloon. After three years of debate over the park site and cost, in 1853 the state legislature authorized the City of New York to use the power of eminent domain to acquire more than 700 acres of land in the centre of Manhattan.
The park is massive. It goes for miles and include a castle, a zoo, a lake and boathouse and lots and lots of other things. There are people using every square inch of it – quick sketch stalls, pramercise (not to be confused with prancersize – this one consists of mothers exercising with their prams and not middle aged ladies dancing around with camel toes), kids activity groups, bubble blowers, dancers, cyclists, joggers, musicians…there’s no way I will get to see even half of it. And I need to get to the Met.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The MET as it’s known more commonly is currently running an exhibition entitled Punk: Chaos to Couture, which showcases the emergence of punk fashion from its beginnings onto the high end fashion runways in the 1970’s. It was an interesting exhibition, outlining the different types of punk fashion and displaying outfits by designers like Dolce and Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Junya Watanabe, Helmut Lang, Yohji Yamamoto and Malcolm McLaren to name a few. There were also t-shirts that were worn by Adam Ant.
It explored the do-it-yourself, born out of necessity approach that made punk fashion an exciting movement. It was all about anti-establishment, politics and of course sex. Throughout, the exhibit referred to back to its most commonly known retrobates, namely Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Patti Smith and even Blondie. I hadn’t actually realised myself just how much punk fashion had made it to the runways. All those safety pins, staples, rips and tears created an inspiring movement and who would have thought it just started because someone’s clothes were torn and they needed a cheap, quick fix!
Tiffany & Co.
Leaving behind my inner punk and now channelling my inner Holly Golightly, I arrive at Tiffany & Co. located at 727 Fifth Avenue, the very store featured in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Stepping inside, you enter a magical world of glimmering display cabinets filled with coloured previous stones and dripping diamonds. I would hate to think what some of these pieces sell for, but I buy myself a small gift to commemorate the trip, because let’s face it – it’s just one of those things you have to do in New York.
Times Square is only a few blocks, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in punch. Whilst, not in its full glory by day, you can see all sorts here. Superheroes and giant Elmo’s wander the streets, tackling tourists for photos. Tour bus touts ply you for business on every corner, I even heard an NYPD officer yell at someone in the exact same voice as the officer from the Simpsons!
By 1928, some 264 shows were produced in 76 theaters in Times Square, showcasing the new popular culture born of America’s immigrant stew – vaudeville and musicals, jazz and the movies. Today it remains the busiest theater district in the world, and is also home to MTV, Hard Rock Cafe and Madame Tussaud’s. But I would say the best things about Times Square are free.
Discovery Times Square
DTS plays host to a number of special exhibitions. Currently running are The Art of the Brick and Bodies: Pulse, and I want to see both. Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside Bodies, which is a real shame, because that stuff is amazing. These are real bodies, left to science to show the inner workings of, well, your body. Apart from full body models, there are all sorts of body parts, blood, muscle systems and slices of brain and other parts. Particularly shocking is the cross section of two legs – one from a smoker and the other a non-smoker – the smoker’s lower leg was just black. This was repeated in the lungs on display, where the smoker’s lung was soaked in tar all the way through. It was disgusting.
I was luckier with the lego exhibition though and took a heap of photos. These were absolutely amazing. This guy has down the rounds of all the talk-show, late night show and news-shows around, showcasing his lego talents. It’s extremely hard to believe this is all done by normal lego bricks.
After lunch at Hard Rock (of course) and a spot of shopping at Macy’s I’m heading home for a nap before heading out tonight (only 20 minutes kip though – don’t worry).
Everyone asks you what show you are going to see on Broadway when you come to New York. I’m not that huge a fan of all those musicals out there. I really wanted to see a rock show or some WWE. But there was nothing of interest until…I logged onto an entertainment guide whilst in Cayman for one last check and came up with something I really wanted to see, and was lucky enough to be able to get a ticket for. A few years ago, I stumbled across a documentary about the making of a new musical, which was being composed by Damon Albarn (from Blur) and his fellow bandmate Jamie Hewlett (whom together formed part of Gorillaz). It was a reproduction of Monkey: Journey to the West and it looked amazing. But that was years ago and I’d never heard anything about it since, it was obviously a UK thing. But now, here it was debuting in New York, right during my visit.
I hailed a New York cab in peak hour (thank you very much, not that he had much choice because he was technically dropping off other passengers and hadn’t pulled away from the curb yet) and headed off to the David H Koch Theatre.
Monkey: Journey to the West
It’s the story about a monkey born from a stone who grows up to realise that he is not immortal and decides he doesn’t like that. After being encased under a mountain by Buddha for 500 years, the mischievious monkey is released into the protection of a monk in order to guide him on his journey towards enlightenment.
It’s part theatre, part acrobatics, part audio visual light show and the result is fairly amazing. The entire show is done in Chinese with English subtitles. Scene 3, which is the Heavenly Peach Banquet is ethereal. Chinese maidens fly across the stage, their beautifully coloured, flowing gowns flapping gently after them. The acrobatics in the show is amazing and reminiscent of the acrobatic troupe I saw in Shanghai many years ago.
The music was all composed by Damon (who actually went off and studied Chinese music) and Jamie bought the set and costumes to life. It was the best kind of show to see in New York.
It’s been a long day and my feet are so sore from so much walking. After a cab ride home, I’m thinking a late night slice of pizza with a couple of glasses of red would top this night off perfectly…