Oh, New York. Even the bad things which people throw at you (“there’s trash everywhere!”) I take as evidence of a spirited metropolis. It is, to state the obvious, the closest I’ll get to London without just going to London: the city which seems to stretch out endlessly in all directions, criss-crossed by a subway system which gets you anywhere, plus the psychology of hyper-urban crowds.
It was also, at least in the last few days, super cold. Colder than Chicago – or at least that’s what it felt like, perhaps only because we were outside so much. Despite the weather, Randi and I managed to check off a bunch of touristy things I had missed last time around, inbetween hanging out with her friends in the city. (Tourism truism #137: people will grasp at anything which elevates them from being seen as ‘pure’ tourists.) Huge thanks in particular to Melissa and Amanda, who generously allowed us to stay with them and avoid taking out the huge bank loans which are presumably required for any form of New York accommodation.
One of the best things we did, a little unexpectedly, turned out be the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Given how close we still are to the events of that day – both emotionally and politically – it seemed like it would be a difficult thing to get right. But what the city has built is a fitting tribute indeed. The memorial pools where the base of the towers once stood are dignified and thoughtful, while the museum lets the extraordinary and terrible facts speak for themselves. Indeed, the main exhibition is built around a minute-by-minute timeline of events, and I was moved by many of the small details: audio recordings of the crew members from the hijacked planes, video footage of the hijackers passing through security, an animation showing how US airspace was completely cleared of thousands of planes in a matter of hours. If you’re in New York, it’s certainly worth your time.
I’m more equivocal about the Tenement Museum, which came highly recommended but suffered from anticlimactic tour guiding. This is both a personal and a cultural thing, sure, but I really don’t like being solicited for my views, thoughts or ‘resonances’ on the subject matter – and I know this makes me sound all reactionary (“teaching is all about facilitating peer learning!”) but there’s a reason why most of the world’s great literature is not written in the Choose Your Own Adventure format. There was more confident storytelling in Big Onion’s Greenwich Village walking tour, which was excellent, and included the Stonewall Inn where the famous gay rights riots of 1969 began. (For some reason, I had never connected the British charity with this place in my mind before.)
The award for absurd security theatre goes to Liberty Island, who put you through airport-style screening to get onto the ferry and then airport-style screening again on the island itself. That’s twice as many metal detectors as it takes to board a plane. Still, the Statue of Liberty remains a beautiful thing. We also trooped to the Daily Show studios just to gaze forlornly at Jon Stewart’s soon-to-be-departing face from the posters, and walked the High Line, which is a great idea.
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