Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Home again, home again

It's Lady Liberty! (surprise, surprise)

I'm back! New York was all kinds of awesome, but it's also great to be back in my beloved Melbourne (and my own bed) again. I was worried Melbourne might seem a little hokey and unexciting viewed through Big Apple-tinted glasses, but I'm actually appreciating its compactness, slower pace and less crowded spaces. In fact, I'm falling in love with it all over again.  As much as I loved New York, I will never love anywhere the way I love Melbourne. My heart will always be here.  

So...New York! What else did I do? So much! For the sake of (relative) brevity, here are the highlights from when I last blogged:

The very unassuming exterior of the Canaan Baptist of Christ 

* I attended a gospel church service in Harlem, which was just like in the movies - the choir's goosebump-inducing singing, the clapping, the amens and hallelujahs, the matriarchs decked out in their finery and, best of all, the pastor working himself up into a booming tirade in the pulpit. It was awesome!

I don't have a religious bone in my body, but I found the experience quite moving - they were very welcoming of visitors and made a special effort to acknowledge and include us in the proceedings (including passing the plate...). But it was also affecting being in the presence of such joy and passion and community spirit (no, I won't be converting).

The Mets' mascot, imaginatively named Mr Mets

* A Twitter friend from LA was also in NYC and he took me out to the ballgame - the Mets (NY) versus the Phillies (Philadelphia). I don't understand the intricacies of the game, but it's pretty hard not to get a buzz from a stadium full of sports fans and from experiencing an event that's a huge part of the fabric of life in the place you are visiting. And there were the little things that go along with it - the hotdogs, the team mascot, the singing and in-between-innings rituals, like pointing the camera at couples in the crowd who then have to pash. Everyone plays along with gusto. It was fun.

* I visited Coney Island. For anyone who doesn't know, Coney Island is a beachside neighbourhood of Brooklyn (about 50 minutes by train from Manhattan), which is home to an amusement park that has seen better days. The park still has few old iconic rides - like the Cyclone rollercoaster which dates back to 1927 - but there's also a lot of empty spaces enclosed behind chainlink fences, and flaking paintwork. As I'm a big fan of faded glory, I loved it. It's awesome in a really tacky way. I barely removed my camera from my hand.

The Cyclone

It's also home to the self-proclaimed best hotdog in New York - Nathan's. I had one and I can say confidently it was the best hotdog I had during my stay, and I ate a few in my two weeks there (I quickly learnt not to ask for cheese however. What actually is that yellow sludge? Is there a nation that has done more to ruin cheese than the US? Actually, come to think of it, they didn't stop at cheese...) 

Nathan's World Famous Frankfurters

* My LA friend, J, also took me with him to the launch of a book written by a couple of actors/comedians he knows at a classy hotel in Tribeca (famous for the Tribeca Film Festival started by Robert De Niro).  I got a copy of the book - called You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up - signed. Even though I'd never heard of the authors, I thought it would make for a more unique souvenir than an "I Heart New York" T-shirt...not that I didn't buy one of those too.

* After the book launch J and I took a cab - my first NY cab ride - to Grimaldi's, a pizza place under the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. The cabbie, who was Pakistani, was far more interested in grilling J about whether WWE wrestling is fake than he was about having an Aussie in his taxi. I guess they see so many tourists, you'd have to be from the moon to pique the interest of most cabbies. (it's so good I look like I'm on drugs)

It was past 10pm when we got to Grimaldi's but we had to line up to get in, such is the popularity of the restaurant. J says it's the best pizza in New York and it was indeed delicious, although much the same as a quality pizza back home, which makes me think most pizza in New York is average.

After the pizza we went down to the waterfront looking towards Manhattan where J got talking to a pair of sisters, one of whom was living literally on the same block as my hotel. Even in New York, it's a small world.

* I went to a stand up comedy show recommended by J, which was being filmed for a submission to Comedy Central. I hadn't heard of the comics, Helen Hong, Joe De Vito and Rodney Laney, but they were hilarious and there was barely a reference that went over my non-American head. I laughed my head off.

I went on my own but a couple of girls from Brooklyn sat at my table and they were very friendly. I found New Yorkers far more polite and friendly than I expected, which was a nice surprise.

I drank a couple of Long Island Iced Teas at the show and was a wee bit drunk when I left. Oops. Despite that, I found my way to the Rockefeller Centre and visited the Top of the Rock Observation Deck to admire New York at night. After that I met J, his sister and a friend for a meal. It was nice to do something normal away from the tourist beat with locals.

* I went to see West Side Story on Broadway, which I chose because I hadn't seen it and it's set on the Upper West Side of New York (where I stayed). I'm not a huge fan of musical theatre, I have to say, but when in New York... I enjoyed it (particularly the hot young guys and their toned biceps) and the Palace Theatre was beautiful.

The Palace Theatre on Broadway

* I mastered the subway. OK, perhaps "mastered" is overstating things, but I found it easy to get around on the subway system and never once ended up in the wrong place. I even managed several interchanges at a couple of the busiest subway stations without a miss-step. Travelling in peak hour wasn't that big a deal either. I made my first foray onto the subway in the morning rush hour and was a little disappointed it wasn't more chaotic! Yes, the trains were crowded, but no worse than in Melbourne. 

I didn't listen to my iPod or read anything on the subway at all for my entire stay - watching and listening to the people around me was entertainment enough.
* I visited St Patricks Cathedral (the largest Gothic-style cathedral in the US), Trinity Church and St Paul's Chapel, which are all spectacular examples of architecture. Trinity Church and St Paul's both have very old, leafy graveyards adjoining them, with many headstones so old the epitaphs have worn away. It was weird being in a cemetery in the middle of a bustling city, with people treating it like a park. They were peaceful and shady.

The graveyard at Trinity Church

* I visited the International Centre of Photography which was hosting several excellent, but quite confronting, exhibitions. One, photos by Ed Templeton, included a photo (supposedly) of a junkie on the streets of Melbourne.

I bought myself a Colorsplash camera in the Centre's giftshop, which is my favourite souvenir and I can't wait to play with it. It's a low-tech, 35 mm camera with a changeable coloured flash that bathes your subject in coloured light, producing cool, artsy type photos.

This camera is my first foray into the world of Lomography, which is a global community of creative types using this and other low-tech, old-school cameras to produce artsy pictures that don't confirm to the accepted rules of photography. It's going to be weird going back to using film and having to wait to see the results of my efforts!  

The view from the Empire State Building (Chrysler Building at left)

* Yes, I did all the other touristy things - I visited Times Square, the Statue of Liberty (a little underwhelming) and the Empire State Building, and caught the ferry to Staten Island. I walked down Wall Street past the New York Stock Exchange and went to the World Trade Centre Visitor Centre, which I found curiously unaffecting, perhaps because I didn't have time to really linger and absorb it.

Me and the Brooklyn Bridge (from South Street Seaport)

I walked the Brooklyn Bridge on a beautiful sunny morning and visited downtown Brooklyn, Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, which was a nice break from the tourist throng. I was glad to see more of New York than Manhattan, which is the only one of the five boroughs that most tourists' visit. I managed four out of the five (even if I only set foot on Staten Island for 30 minutes between ferries).

* Oh, I got an unexpected stop over in Los Angeles! My flight from LA to Sydney was pushed back a day due to a mechanical problem, so I got put up at a nice hotel for the night with a late check out and free meals in the hotel restaurant. Sweet!

After a good sleep sprawled on the plush, king sized bed, I spent half the day at Venice Beach, which was more seedy than I imagined from what I'd seen in the movies. I confess I didn't really like it does have the faded glory thing going for it, but it's far more tawdry than Coney Island. I did take a lot of photos and I met a couple of hip hop artists who told me they're coming to Australia next year for the Big Day Out and have been in negotiations with Triple J, Australia's youth radio broadcaster.

Me and the hip hop dudes.  (Yes, I bought their CDs.
I don't even like hip hop much. I'm such a softie!) 

The rest of the day I spent and at a shopping mall near my hotel buying clean undies and toiletries (I packed in a hurry and didn't have these items in my carry on) and spending some of the money that I surprisingly had left over after New York. It was pretty much like a shopping centre back home.

Then it was back to the hotel for a shower, a feed and shuttle bus to the airport.  

The setting sun from my hotel room (near the airport)

One of the best things about my holiday was simply the fact that I was there. It took me a few days to stop walking around thinking, "Wow, I'm in New York City! I'm in another country! At last! I've done it!". I get to cross off the number one thing on my list of 101 Things to do Before I'm 40, which is to take an overseas trip. Yay!

But the best and most significant thing about my holiday is that despite my lack of travel experience, my initial trepidation and somewhat fragile emotional state, I did it on my own - and not only coped with it, but kicked arse. My experiences with my Dad's illness and death this year have already shown me that I am much stronger than I ever imagined I could be, and my New York trip reinforces that. Turns out I'm strong, self-sufficient and capable. Go, me! I feel like whatever comes my way, I'll handle it.


P.S. See my other blog over the coming days for more - and better - photos from my trip.


Dina said...

I love hearing about all your adventures. You remind me of me when I'm in Australia...just so happy to BE there.

We love Coney Island too, although we've been there only a few times.

Anonymous said...

Ooops I think I commented at the wrong post before (have no idea how I got there) so here goes again.

Great shots, still can't believe they're not with an SLR as the light is wonderful, particularly with the night/evening pics.

Kat said...

Glad you are home safe and sound! Venice Beach is underwhelming. I am not a fan of LA and it seems I've been having to head there every other weekend these days.

Levonne said...

Love your picture of the baseball field and of Nathan's. Full of good stuff.