Sunday, July 26, 2009

New York: Part the rest

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to write the rest later. Well, as often happens when I say things like that, other things came up. Specifically for the last two weeks my job has consisted almost exclusively of writing articles -- which tends to drain one's ability to create anything original outside of work. Twelve thousand words later though, the last of said articles is now done -- I should be able to think about now. Unfortunately that fortnight spent writing a dictionary of Islamic architecture has given the memories time to smunge together in my head. I don't think I've forgotten anything, but the events are now lumped in a big memory sack with 'New York 2009' written on the tag, rather than in little bags for each day. This may mean that I'll mix up days, or put things in the wrong order. So if things seem inconsistent or strange then that's probably why. Without further ado, I'll now return to my babbling.

Central Park
After my last trip to New York city I decided that I could happily spend days on end just wandering around central park. Without the pressing need to see the sights I did precisely that. Me and Kristen went there for the first time on my first day in town. Looking back, it seems a rather odd choice of activity, considering how hard it was raining, but such is the nature of the Englishman on holiday. A childhood of holidays in the UK makes you unwilling to put off anything (even a visit to the beach) just because of rain. If you start getting picky like that then you'll have to get used to spending your whole holiday either in your tent or your car.

One of the first things that we stopped to look in Central Park showed me that it was not just the English who have been indoctrinated with that attitude to outdoor recreational activities. Central Park contains a rather lovely boating lake, you can hire a rowboat and take your lovely amour or your bored kids out on the water. Later in the week I saw it bathed in glorious sunshine, but not on this day. To be frank, it was pissing it down. Me and Kristen sat under a London Plane tree (an excellent import, they keep the rain off and can survive even in toxic polluted cities) and watched a flotilla of amateur oarsmen and their soggy passengers as they moved around the lake. During the really heavy downpours the couples cuddled together under their umbrellas, drifting aimlessly, and the gleefully soaked children laughed like drains as theirdamp, red faced fathers rowed furiously for the shelter of the bridge. What really made the scene perfect was the sheer number of the little rowboats that were being rowed backwards - flat end fowards - often by the aforementioned red faced fathers. Such a display of unfettered landlubbery filled me with love.

We walked up through the park about as far as 130th street, before deciding that we were too wet, too hungry, and too much in need of a drink to keep going any further. On our way up through the park we passed through its many different zones, from the dense wooded areas -- with their big boulders and artfully integrated footpaths -- to the broad playing fields and running tracks -- with signs that said "These areas are reserved for Active Recreation only". A few days later I was amused to find that a similar sign exists on the entrance to the sheep meadow restricting access to those engaged in Passive Recreation -- I recreated so passively there that I dozed off.

We went back there a few days later, after visiting the National Design Museum, which I'll write about in a moment. We had just bought burritos from a little mexican place on the Upper east side somewhere that was actually failing its health inspection while they prepared our order. For ten minutes we sat there while a tall, no-nonsense woman from the Public Health Department rooted around in all their cupboards and demanded to know why they kept hand-soap in the ketchup dispenser ("what if someone thought it was sauce and put it on someone's food?".. "But it's soap, everyone knows it's soap" etc etc.) Bearing this experience in mind, we decided that we'd go somewhere nice (with public toilets) to eat our food (which was actually very tasty and entirely soap-free), so we ended up back in the park. That evening we snoozed in the sun and watched yet another New York sunset. Manhattan sunsets are an odd experience, they occur about an hour before sunset everywhere else on the east coast because in Mahattan the horizon is generally about 50 stories up. I believe manhattan-henge (where the setting sun lines up perfectly with the crosstown streets) occurred at some point while I was over there, but I didn't see it.

On one of the other days we went to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which was designed by the same architects who oversaw Central Park's construction. It was a pretty place, very different to Central Park. Much more, er, natural, somehow. The landscape felt less deliberately sculpted, and there weren't great housing condos looming over you the whole time. The natural vibe of the place was slightly amplified by the fact that it was a little dishevelled. It felt much more lived-in as a result though; there were people having barbeques and parties, children playing football (proper football), and an astonishing amount of wildlife. I saw a bunny (wild, like the ones in Canterbury) and an actual, real-life chipmunk.


It seems that I've done the same thing as I did last time. This was going to be a quick write-up of all the places I'd been, but I've ended up with a huge lump of writing about just one thing. I'll write more tomorrow, for real this time.