So I wake up this morning and check my Twitter feed, and it turns out that Kyrgyzstan is demolishing its equivalant of the Statue of Liberty due to a ‘curse’ that has led to the social instability faced by the country over the years. And I guess yesterday’s post on slavery already had me edging towards a subject I’ve been meaning to write for a while – ladies and gentlemen, I give you Matt’s New York Memories!
I’ve been to New York twice, in 2002 and 2008, and it’s always been an amazing experience. That’s partly because it doesn’t seem quite real; half of it is a bustling, chaotic 24/7 city made up of cops, business people, street sweepers and waitresses, while the other half is a film set, pregnant with possibility. Bumping into Kevin Bacon, glimpsing Spider-Man crawling up a building – these are equally likely possibilities. After all, I saw Jimi Hendrix.
Well, no, I didn’t. My friend Andy and I were wandering in the vicinity of Madison Square Garden when we came across a busker tuning his guitar. He had a touch of Hendrix about him, effortless cool in the shadow of the metropolis; this, we decided, would be the most awesome busking since the first minstrel picked up his lute. We could wait for him to finish tuning, clearly it would be worth it.
And so we waited, and waited, and waited, and it become clear that Pseudo Hendrix wasn’t gonna play. Maybe the cosmos wasn’t correctly alligned. Maybe he just thought we were waiting to mug him.
My second visit to New York was with my sister, and she got to fulfill an ambition by going on a Harlem Gospel tour. Initially I wasn’t sure how to feel about this, my sole experience of Harlem being based on the opening sequence from Shaft. This was unfounded, the area having gone through a period of gentrification in the nineties, and we attended a church service. It was a strange experience, a mix of the familiar and elements that, while not wrong left me a little uncomfortable. That said, what struck me most was the church’s committment to social action and ensuring that young people had the opportunity to receive a decent education. Faith needs to have a genuine, positive impact on local communities; I’m glad that we, as annoying tourists, got to see that.
Then there was the Statue of Liberty. In some ways this is the spiritual heart of New York, a physical and historical icon. Sadly the crown was closed following the 9/11 attacks, but this was compensated for by a happy accident. We under-estimated the sheer size of the city and the time it would take to visit some of the major attractions, finding ourselves on Liberty Island as the day drew to a close. We caught the last ferry back as the sun went down, and as we turned to face the city, we saw the iconic skyline before us, lights blinking into life, Manhatten at night showing off. It was a breathtaking moment, a sight I’d seen in countless films, but this was for real. None of my photographs were any good, but they wouldn’t have captured the epic feeling anyway.
This was in 2002, only a year or so after the destruction of the World Trade Center, and as we disembarked the ferry and made our way back to our hotel, we stumbled upon Ground Zero. The church used as a refuge for the emergency services on the days immediately following the attacks was still covered with flags, messages of support from throughout the world. Among them all was a St. George’s flag, placed there by supporters of West Bromwich Albion, the football team Andy supports. While it’s probably not all that unlikely, it seemed like a coincidence at the time, and so we found a pen and added our signatures to it – it just seemed like the right thing to do.
I ❤ NY.