New York was all that was promised. A perfectly formed island of towering buildings overhead and neat straight sidewalks under foot, with everything in between a bundle of energy and life. Manhattan is just as it looks in the films. A home to the icons, The Chrysler Building; The Empire State Building; Staten Island; Grand Central; Bloomingdales; Tiffany’s; the Statue of Liberty, few places herald a greater list of famous inhabitants. Even the streets are ‘household names’ here, Wall Street; 42nd Street; Broadway; Fifth Avenue. It makes this new and unfamiliar city appear more familiar than it really is, leaving me with a peculiar sense of the uncanny. I expect to see Carrie Bradshaw or Gordon Gekko appear out of a building and jump into a yellow cab at any minute. I feel a little wrong footed and a teensy bit star struck with this city.
A few days to explore on my own before I meet Sabrina, I walk for miles and miles. Just hopping out to catch an early evening walk gets me back at the YMCA for 10.30pm. I had no idea. Time disappears as everything seems so close, ‘it’s all in walking distance’ I am told. This is true. They tend to be very long walks. There is also much to distract. Visiting the Empire State Building gave a more honest sense of scale. Views spread across the whole city, creating a vision of 3-D Tetris. Reaching the edges of Manhattan and looking across from Central Park, you get a greater sense of the city. The Staten Island Ferry takes regular trips past the Statue of Liberty for the classic Manhattan skyline.
Another must see was the High Line Park. A converted rail track which was used to deliver supplies to the Meatpacking District. Now an oasis of calm and greenery it is a welcome contrast to the hectic streets below. The elevated walkway hovers 30 feet above the west side streets. Converted from a disused space, work began in 1999, with the first section opening ten years later. The park as it is today opened in 2011. A long narrow space, it is surprisingly easy to forget you are in the centre of such a built up city. Cast your gaze across and the skyline of concrete is always in sight. For me, this made it all the more special. You know you are in Manhattan, a few feet from West Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen and the Meatpacking District. Yet surrounded by grasses, climbers and stretches of lawn, elevated above the ground, you feel as if you are in another place entirely. It is a little pocket within the city and outside of it.
Seeing my ‘old’ friend Sabrina (we met in Russia last October) it feels like I have almost come full circle (which I suppose I have). Arriving in the city a few days earlier, New York felt a little lonely. A familiar and friendly face, so happy to hear about my journey since we’d parted in Beijing, was a true tonic for the soul. Any travel weariness was quickly abandoned. It also meant I could enjoy reliving that early part of my journey with someone who had been there.
We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset and had pizza at Grimaldi’s. We visited Queen’s to watch a baseball game and took a road trip to Philadelphia. Stopping at a diner on the way home for pancakes I wondered where Bruce Willis was and if Uma Thurman would soon emerge out of the loos. My own inner world, I would have been disappointed if they had appeared as they would not be in the characters I cast (on this occasion I am in Pulp Fiction).
The baseball game was good fun. It really is like the movies, with ‘kiss cam’ (and some less than excited participants willed on by the crowd), burgers and milkshakes and loud pumping music gearing the players up. A great end to my time in New York and (at least temporarily) to my travels. This adventure is now returning full circle as my next destination is Bexhill, UK, where the project will continue…