We returned to the wharf on Saturday morning waving our triumphant tickets for a two-and-a-half-hour cruise around Manhattan Island, joined by 650 other voyagers. Sitting outside so as not to miss anything, we sweltered in unexpected sunshine while the crowd boarded. But as soon as we pushed out into the Hudson River (which isn’t a river but a khaki coloured estuary) it became brass monkey cold.
This cruise is the best way to condense a lot of New York viewing into a short time, helped by the best commentator I’ve ever heard. The big moment, of course, was seeing the Statue of Liberty, all 150 feet of her plus base – remembering that we are in the US which is still on imperial measurements. She it is made of very thin copper which has aged to that wonderful green patina. The statue was a gift from the French people (not the French Government) in 1886 and arrived in 300 easy pieces which had to be assembled around a steel internal frame. The frame was designed by Gustave Eiffel. who also did the tall temporary tower still waiting to be disassembled in Paris.
I’d seen pictures of SOL on many occasions but they didn’t prepare me for the real thing. There was a lump in my throat when the commentator read out part of the sonnet written for the statue by Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The statue is majestically beautiful, her gold torch held high as the symbol of human ideals.
The tour took us under a great number of bridges, all of them famous for one reason or another, but the one that impressed me the most was Hellgate Bridge because it was an exact, although smaller, replica of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I thought the lousy yanks had copied our bridge – probably without asking – until I found out that Hellgate had been built er, um, in 1912. Oops. Looks like we did the copying. I hope they don’t sue.
Other useless facts I picked up are: the 1883 Brooklyn Bridge has far more steel cables holding it up than needed; finance is the biggest employer in New York; many buildings in New York have water tanks, made of wood, on their roofs to regulate water pressure; New York used to be called New Amsterdam until the Brits conquered it during the War of Independence. We also saw the place where the jet ditched in the Hudson seven years ago after Canadian geese flew into both its engines. Locals blame the Canadians for that. If the pilot had varied his approach by even four centimetres the plane would have broken up. He kept the undercarriage closed so that after landing the plane floated for hours and made off on a downstream current because it thought it was now a boat. Besides all the passengers being saved, so was their luggage! It was genius flying.
Betty and Pete had booked a matinee session of a recently arrived musical on Broadway called Amelie. Instead of seats up in the gods, this time we were in the stalls, second front row. With no orchestra pit, if somebody had handed me a clarinet I would have been obliged to blow it. As it was, we looked up the players’ nostrils and collected the occasional flying gob of saliva. The show was rompy, novel, surprising and colourful but had no particular story – that I could uncover, anyway. Odd girl meets odd boy and they both do odd stuff aided by haphazard but vivid characters and a highly active set that sloped downhill – so that you thought the stage was on an angle. It had no songs that were memorable – or even recallable. But hey, here we were at a Broadway show so who’s complaining?
One thing I’ve noticed is that audience members in the stalls of Broadway live shows have an obligation to give every performance a standing ovation and shriek comments like ‘great!, yar! whoop!’ but they have no staying power for curtain calls, having exhausted themselves with all the hysterical spontaneity. In the case of Amelie, the star held up her hand for silence and did a sales pitch for an actors’ charity before yelling ‘have a great day!’ and sending us forth to be charitable.
Having caught the Broadway bug, we went to the box office hole in the wall where you can shout at a dimly lit man behind military thickness glass and plead for last minute tickets to good shows. Michelle took on the shoutathon task and came away with box tickets for tomorrow afternoon’s performance of The Book of Mormon.
We dined last night at Tavern on the Green, a famous sprawling restaurant in the middle of Central Park. Trying to avoid being weighed down by another load of meat or fish I opted for a strange dish in which four modest half-figs sat on goats’ cheese and prosciutto hidden beneath a tall green mountain of rocket leaves. Michelle went for lamb and vegs, always a bit of a risk in a non-lamb dedicated country, but it pleased her no end. Well lubricated by cocktails and wine we set off for a walk through Central Park in the dark. In my head I could hear Charles Ives wonderful orchestral piece of the same name. I didn’t fear a mugging because big Pete had been a college wrestler and Olympic water polo player, to say nothing of Michelle’s ability to cast word spells worthy of Harry Potter.