Our friends Betty and Pete having departed for home in California we were left to fend for ourselves in the Big Apple. A Central Park walking tour seemed like a good idea. For no reason that I could see, it started in the city where a small international gathering of park discoverers began their nature walk along crowded city streets. We lost five Italians to a fast talking bicycle tour street vendor but Maggie, our diminutive tour guide, was not daunted as she delivered her voluminous information, mostly walking backwards.
Central Park is not the biggest open public space in the five boroughs, but probably the most natural because they couldn’t afford to move the rocks. Having said that, it is still well stocked with manmade pathways, lakes and fundraising features. You can have your name on a park bench. A paving tile will cost you $10,000 up front and $1000 a year thereafter to let people look down on you. In fact, this is the put-your-name-on-it town. Pay, and up you go, buildings included. Donald Trump even has his name emblazoned on buildings he doesn’t own.
Maggie loved pointing out buildings where famous people live. Gerry Seinfeld, she tells us, walks through the park from his house to his office every day. Well, goddamit! And at one boundary we stop to look at the ornate Dakota building where John Lennon lived and died. “That foyer over there is where John was shot four times by Mark Chapman,” Maggie shouts above the traffic. Chapman, a serious nutter, then went back to nonchalantly reading Catcher in the Rye while they threw the dying Lennon into a car and raced to hospital. Yoko still lives in the 40 room apartment, curtains drawn. In the park, where we were, there is a memorial section called Strawberry Fields featuring a paved ceramic circle around the word Imagine. Initially, the gardeners planted a modest plot of strawberries but the park rats, not appreciative of music or John Lennon’s place in history, ate the strawberries.
The park is often featured in movies or TV series, like Law and Order SVU. I was reminded of the comments by the ferry spruiker that there were only three bushes left in Central Park that had not yielded up a crime drama body. Sections of the park, along with many other parts of the city, are often closed off to shoot movies. The hiring charges are a substantial contributor to the city’s budget.
If you have enabling legs, lubricated joints and comfortable shoes, New York is a walking town, especially if you are a first time visitor and you don’t mind being buffeted. Also, we find subway travel here like trying to escape from a country via an illegal tunnel. Michelle has struck a possibly happy medium by joining Uber. We’ll see.
Mounting our invisible pony, we clip-clopped to Lincoln Centre where the artistically intelligent go for cultural nourishment in music (New York Philharmonic), dance and opera. We did a tour led by Jim, a tall, thin man with a Luna Park smile and a great knowledge of the performing arts. He took us to a NY Phil rehearsal where they were grinding their way through a recently written piano concerto which did not tempt me to return for the performance. Then a look at the opera theatre and a Wagner’s Flying Dutchman rehearsal which looked marvellous. There are many theatres in the centre, flanked by the famous Julliard school for outstanding students of the performing arts. While at the school, the students are housed in a residential tower in an adjacent building. What a hotbed of passion and exotic chemicals that would be! A novel begs to be written. We’ve booked for a ballet in a couple of nights’ time. I can’t remember the name. It might have been Codpiece Cavalcade. I’ll check it when we go back.
We took the stifling, illegal tunnel to the World Trade Centre Memorial – something on everybody’s must-see list. I was moved by the grand sadness of the place, the two square pools that seem to flow into bottomless pits, forming the ghostly footprint of the buildings that had stood there. I tried to imagine where the two planes came from when they hit the towers.
The vast museum thoroughly documents and exhibits, almost to the point of absurdity, everything to do with 911. I was reminded that terrorists had tried to bring down one of the towers in 1993 by bombing the underground carpark. At that stage a second successful attack seemed highly improbable. There was also a reference to Phillippe Petit, a French tightrope walker whose support team got into the towers at dawn just before they were being completed in 1974. They strung a wire between the two massive buildings and Petit spent 45 minutes walking back and forth, at one stage lying on the cable while early morning New Yorkers gawked upwards in disbelief.