Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day Ten - New York

You may know that I have a slight fascination with the American life and culture of the 1950s and 1960s. It started out with two lads, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, the two brothers who make the duo better known to those who like a bit of alternative electronic music as Boards of Canada. When I discovered their music, I liked the videos, which happened to be made by fans simply to post on youtube and upon reading through some comments I ended up on a site called www.archive.org which actually has reels and reels of Americana film, adverts and short programmes from way back when TV was just about after working it's way into every house in the States. I suppose this was the first step and I gradually awakened in myself, for it was already there just that i had never bothered pursuing it, an interest in American culture of the time and the optimism assocaited with it as people looked forward to automatic houses, kitchens where the food would be automatically made, where cars would glide along highways without the need for someone to drive the thing. Perhaps the culmination of this era was with the 1964 World's Fair, the ending of the period coined by the author Thomas Hine as the Populuxe period of US history.

This fair was held in New York, in the Queens borough at Flushing Meadows Corona Park where the Mets play thier baseball and where the tennis stars of the world travel to annually to play in the US Open. There is a fascinating video from the time of the fair on Archive.org made as a promotional video for it I think and having watched it and become somewhat fascinated by the whole idea of this world fair and the involvement of so many US companies in it with great places like 'Motoramas' and 'Unispheres' made there, I knew that while in NYC it would have to be seen. It was a Wednesday morning so I doubted many others would be there and besides who else is interested in seeing rusted remains but me? It turns out quite a few actually, but not really with the rust it seemed.

The blue line on the subway took us out of Manhattan and above ground through Queens and looking out of the windows it quickly became noticeable that we had arrived in Manhattan just through this partiuclar area. The ride was fairly long, again the maps were decieving in their distance but eventually we got there, one stop earlier than we really should have but it was no big deal. The sky was pretty cloudy at this stage and it was coming up on 3pm as we walked down to the park past some houses and cheap looking pizza places and convienience stores. The are didn't look too well off at all, not that that made it dangerous or anything but I was sure that tourists really didn't frequent the area all that much. Crossing the road, what came into view was a Redstone booster, the rocket that launched the first Americans into space which had the famous Mercury capsules for the silver suited astronauts placed on top. Next to that was a section of rocket engine, maybe from the Saturn boosters and next to that was a Titan rocket, the family of rockets that sent the Gemini spacecraft up into the stars to allow the US conduct their first spacewalk, months after the Russians had done their own. Although fenced inside the New York Science Museum they were imposing and I can only imagine what they must have been like to ride upon. I'd say they were quite a bit more severe than the subway. I have a great interest in this period of space travel as it fits in with that US optimism of the time and to see these rockets up close was amazing. We have all looked up at the stars at some point and on doing so wondered what is up there. Is it the ultimate freedom to be there where there are no rules as such, where not even gravity can rule upon you? Perhaps it is but perhaps also it is the greatest awakening one can have, to see our planet below you, to know that it isn ot your home but the home of billions. And yes you could say that New York is a planet in itself!

We weren't sure if we could see the park without paying but I knew it was free and after seeing a pathway, we followed it and came upon a sculpture which was emtitled "space" and suppossed to show the free flowing of metal in space. It did a good job, I thought it looked fantastic but it was simply standing there in the middle of a road into the park, a road seemingly open only to pedestrians and authorized park vehicles. There was no plaque, no sign, nothing to commemorate what must have taken so much time and thought to make. This theme was to continue throughout our walk around the park when we came upon such structures as the New York State Pavilion, three tall towers with observation decks on top and outdoor lifts along with a large area next to them covered with a glass suspended roof, the floor a detailed map of the State of New York in tile along with whatever exhibits were in there. I saw this as we walked along while gazing at a group playing baseball. Essentially what had become of the park, only partly in fulfillement, of the man who brought the World Fair twice to this part of New York, Robert Moses, was that it had turned into an organic play and recreation area. Moses wanted the park to be a great area for the people of NYC to play and relax but the Fair didn't bring in as much money as hoped, in fact it lost money, and so could never be made into what it really should have been.
Instead there were dry pools where fountains once shot magnifently into the air, grass and weeds growing where fantastic pavilions by the likes of GE and Pepsi once stood. The exhibits that still stood did allow me to think back on what that time must have been like with crowds of people admiring the flags, the national pavilions and the progress civilisation had seemingly made in industry after WW2. The Unisphere, a massive 700,000 pound stainless steel globe, with all of the world's seas and continents on it still stands about 12 stories high, tilted on its side as the earth is in space only that the water pool that once surrounded it is now dry, the floor a kind of aqua blue, now feeling only the patter of rain where once fountains showered water to. It was sad to think that this stood, as grand as ever for it recieved a facelift a few years ago, without anyone else really paying much attention to it where once it was the centrepiece of a World Fair. I contemplated this while watching planes fly over it as I lay down under Antartica. Donal and I climbed the metal foundation to it and lay under the world so to speak which was quite unique.

After this we walked down through more dry pools towards a statue called the Rocket Thrower, 43 feet high and cast in bronze in Italy. It depicts a man hurling a sphere into the air with a trail of fire behind it. From here we carried on to a huge pond from where, if you looked back at the Unisphere, it was suppossed to be the same view you would see of Earth if you were 6000 miles in space. A nice touch it must be said although I read that after being there wich is a shame. Just before we circled the pond it began to rain a bit and we took shelter under a tree, lucky there were plenty of benches around to use. People were playing football (soccer) nearby as well so it seemed to me that at least the park was actually being used but still I couldn't help thinking it was a shame that it is simply being left go to dust, being patched up now and then, but largely being allowed to go it's own way, forgotten in time. At the same time though maybe this is the way it was suppossed to be for if it were permanent it wouldn't have that certain magic about it.
I thought about this as we left, walking past the tennis stadium to the parks own subway station. Just before I walked past the light rail platform to the subway I took a look at the murals put in the ground at the end of the slope that you walk up to the platforms. They detailed some of the ideas of the park, some images of the park and indeed two murals held information on what was inside the time-capsules buired beneath the soil somewhere in the Park by Westinghouse. They're due to be opened in 6939Ad so we'll see what the people of the time think of birth control pills, a Beatles 45" record and plastic heart valves and so many feet of microfilm detailing general life in the late 1930s and the 1950/60s (two capsules, one for the 1939 Fair and one for the 1964 Fair). Or maybe we won't find out but you know what I mean.

We left, in a way I was sad to leave but we were both hungry and had more to do, and finally got to Greenwich Village via subway where we actually managed to catch a game of street basketball. Before actually getting to Greenwich Village we stopped off at Grand Central Station to look around and what place to look around. The marble walls, the high ceiling, the clock in the centre with the information booth and the throngs of people going home from work or a day inthe city moving , always moving to somewhere else. I really hoped they had admired this place beofre because it deserved to be admired. It was elegant, polished, almost relaxed in dealing with so many people. You know that when you call a building "relaxed" that it has a charcter all of its own and Grand Central really does. We left with our mouths wide open in amazement to catch the subway to Greenwich at last.
The basketball there when we got back to above-ground level was interesting to say the least as we watched tall coloured lads shift with amazing dexterity around a court which was sponsored by Nike it seemed. I got some good pictures of it all and after picking a colour, the white's I decided to follow the score as a crowd had gathered around to watch. Having picked the white's, they of course lost but it was good to see nonetheless. If we weren't hungry we may have stayed for more but our stomachs willed us on to find Johns Pizzeria and we were not dissappointed. Two 16 inch pizzas for $20 each baked in a coal fired oven and mande by two, maybe Mexican, chefs who really looked like they would throw you in the oven yourself if you made a complaint to them. Either that or they'd get the Mexican Mafia after you because they looked the part to be leaders of a Latin American group involved in certain less than legal activities. I'd go so far as to say that they went in to John and say "Hi John, we are good pizza chefs, here is what you will pay us, here is what we will do and we will begin right now" - I don't think John had much of a say but it didn't matter as the place attracts quite few celebrities even though it is so cheap (for what you get) and, well, not exactly chic looking inside.

To work off this massive amount of dough we walked south a bit through Chinatown and crossed over Manhattan Bridge, that less than famous one that borders the Brooklyn Bridge. It took us some time to actually get on the bridge but once on it became clear that this was not a structure to laugh at. It carried two roads which were always busy and it carried two subway lines as well as the walkways across it. It was all done so each was very seperate so there was no way you could fall in front of a subway train as that was a level above you seperating you from the roads. It was quiet and as Donal walked ahead at speed to work off the pizza, I ambled across taking shots of Brooklyn Bridge from a decent height and the lower Manhattan skyline. I sang too, as one does when on their own a few stories over the Hudson River as the sky turned darker and darker.
We reached Brooklyn and then went for the bridge bearing this borroughs name. By this time things had slowed down quite a bit as the darkness was fully set in and we sat own along the river on rocks in the park near the Brooklyn Bridge. If you ever watched the film Munich, then the park at the end of the film is where we were. After taking some pictures we then crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and this was really something. Even without the Twin Towers, the Manhattan skyline, to a Cork boy, is something to behold. Donal and I discussed how it must be monotonous to locals in the same way that Pana can be for us but yet they would find the small low rise of Cork to be fascianting in the same way we found the high rises of New York. I will say that the bridge is romantic, it's lit up and you travel on wood not on concrete or anything and it is by no means garish, just beatifully made beckoning you to walk across it or sit on a bench on the bridge to contemplate the scenery. As you walk over it you notice a hump, it's a suspension bridge after all and as you cross the haflway point you speed up towards the bright lights of Manhattan where you can lose yourself to anonymity. Now I did say that romance is certainly a part of this bridges character but what is romance if you are anonymous? But then what is romance if you can be not one person but two in an area of anonymity? Real romance, that's what that is and New York is a perfect place for it.

Times Square is another perfect place for this. Maybe one of the most well known and busiest places in the world and yet Donal and I could sit there and watch it all unfold from the red steps over the TKTS Sales Booth, the crowd who do discount tickets for same-day Broadway shows. Imagine sitting in a place where thousnads of people are present and moving and changing ever minute, where lights are so bright that the difference between night and day is certainly present but not in the sense that you may know it, where the place looks brighter at night than in day, where anything and everything can happen, where victories have been celebrated and New Years welcomed. There really is something about sitting back and relaxing in the midst of all of this. In a way it showed that amongst chaos, not order, but sanctuary can be found. There was no trouble, no drunken people trying to cause fights without even knowing it themselves, no tension at all. New people sat down every few minutes as others left reflecting life in NYC itself where buildings are brought down, replaced by new ones, where most things are never allowed to grow old but rather put away to make space for the new. It was the centre of ecclecticism then and we were there until about 12:30am before going back to the hostel to sleep.

It had been a long day with miles of walking but there was certainly a lot for the mind to store away as sleep came by. It knew it'd have more to store soon.


  1. "tall coloured lads" you could not sound more colloquial irish if you Tried!! lol

    God you make me miss it.
    Times Square really is something else. The views are spectacular indeed. NYC just has that x factor I think (X as in the it i.e sexiness etc. not that tacky t.v extorsionist show)

    Didn't stay in Harlem though the two other girls did. Me and my friend Mairead were lucky in that my uncle's ex-wife (Such! a dote) let us stay with her in Brooklyn. Now There is community.

    It has just recently been hit by a massive storm when we were there and the evidence was still visible on some houses (ripped off roofs etc.) but people still went about their lives. Kids played outside the damaged houses. Old men on one side with their ciggies and old women on the other in their deck chairs. It was like out of a movie.

    Mostly arabic and asian culturally now but still had some remnants of the once majority irish of the area. Very ecclectic, adored it.

    Have to say though, I loved Jersey more. Not jersey city but the suburbs of Tom's river were we stayed was just so perfectly American middleclass that it ached. My cousin lives there with her firechief husband, ballerina daughter (Who wanted to be a cheerleader too but only had Time for one serious hobby!), quarterback son (at 11) and little drama queen Isabelle (who I can imagine will be the cheerleader her sister wasn't).

    If you ever get the time hun, check out this little out of the way town in NJ called Spring Lake. Turn of the 19th century houses (Imagine long porches and black maids and every possible cliche), kitschy little 50's dinners (Actual ones not 50's themed!) and just absolute neighbourly attitude to strangers and you have an idea of it. I think I may have mentioned it before. I tend to wax poetic about this place. I will eventually retire there or something lol

    Anywho, loving the blog as usual.
    Keep it up :P

    Niamh xxx

  2. Daycent...real fifties diners? Now that I would love to see.