Date of Trip: September 2010
We had decided that our same-day NYC visits were getting to be a bit much – leave our Miami Beach home at 2:30 AM to make the 5:05 AM Spirit flight from Ft. Lauderdale to LaGuardia, then back to LaGuardia to make the 9 PM flight back the same night, and getting home by car after midnight. We needed a night in between to chill. Of course, the whole idea of these cheapo Spirit same-days was to avoid the horrendous NYC hotel bills.
Captain Kirk to the rescue! I started lowballing on PriceLine bids a few months in advance and finally scored a 2 1/2 star for $111 plus taxes and fees – $141 – the Holiday Inn Express on 29th, west of 7th. OK, it wasn’t like when I scored the Hilton in Philly for $50, but Manhattan is Manhattan.
I’d bought the Spirit tickets long before our Great Spirit Disaster of July 26 (canceled flight from Atlanta back to FLL and being told they’d get me back two days later). Fortunately, everything went smoothly this time, going and returning. As always, we took the M60 bus to 125th and transferred to the M7 at Malcolm X Boulevard, which, for the uninitiated,couild be considered a northern extension of Sixth Avenue. The idea was to get off at 7th and 29th, either check in or leave our tiny overnight bags at the desk (no way will I ever pay to carry my own suitcase!) and then walk to the High Line, the new elevated park created out of an old elevated freight rail line, opened last year, which currently runs between 14th St. on the West Side and Gansevoort (love those old Dutch names!), about a mile or two – a good hour and a half stroll with incredible views of the urban landscape and the Hudson River.
It’s hard to describe the High Line, because it’s like nothing else that I’ve ever seen or even heard of. You ascend and descend by stairs or elevator to what was once a freight line, built to supersede the dangerous street-level rail crossings. Its last freight train, in the 1980s, carried three cars of frozen turkeys. There were counter-movements, one to tear down this old relic as an eyesore, and the other – well, as they said on Monty Python, and now for something completely different! So now there is this winding, 20 to 40 foot wide elevated path and park, lined with a virtual botanic garden and assorted unusual large scale works of art. At one point, a stainless steel sculpture – at another, a wall of differently colord transculent squares reflecting all the different tones seen in HudsonRiver water – at another, a speaker emitting, every minute on the minute, the sound of different bells – church bells, city hall bells, bicycle bells, Tibetan temple gongs, the tinkling bells on a synagogue’s Torah scroll. There’s a list and a clock so each can be identified, and chairs and tables – there and elsewhere – and we sat for a while listening. The park is maintained through a support group, and we were first enchanted by it on a previous visit, coming across it by accident from ground level and seeing a small outdoor concert taking place on it far above us.
We’d intended to do the weekly 11 AM Saturday tour that leaves from its south end, but decided we’d already walked and seen it all, and so we headed from there through – to our surprise – some cobblestoned streets, back through the heart of Greenwich Village and Washington Square, the setting for a novel I’m writing about a New York a decade in the future, and down Broadway and then Church to the World Trade Center site. I’d been there twice before – once four months after the horror, when all the rescue workerswere still there, some wreckage was still visible, a viewing platform had just been opened, and there were tributes and messages everywhere. I’d gazed up at the empty air where, years earlier, two of my daughters and I had had the surreal experience of dining at night at Windows on the World. The second time I wrote about here, last year, and that consisted mainly of a visit to adjoining St. Paul’s Chapel, no longer a rescue center but once again the same facility where George Washington had worshipped after his first inaugural, and incoporating exhibits, in which I recognized some of the same touching tributes I’d seen on its fence the first time.
At the corner of 7th Avenue and 11th Street, we saw a fence off to the right covered with over a thousand differently colored tiles. We approached, and found that they were all 9/11 tribute tiles, some beautifully done, some amateurish, and all profoundly touching. I photographed many of them, calmly moved, and then I came to one memorializing a four year old girl who had been on one of the planes, and I’m not ashamed to say that, just for a brief moment, and just for that one time that day, I kind of “lost it.” And photographed that tile, too.
The WTC site occupies a huge irregular rectangle bounded on the east side by Church Street, which, it’s helpful to know, is sort of malcolm X Boulevard’s opposite number – a southern extension of Sixth Avenue. The site is no longer sombre – it is a fenced-in, busy, noisy construction site, alive with cranes, hard hats and machinery. Within it, from ground level, can be seen the beginning of what will be the Freedom Tower, officially One World Trade Center, to be appropriately topped off at 1776 feet, already perhaps 20 stories high and slated for completion in 2013. At its NE corner, a side street leads off to the east and to an indoor memorial exhibition with videos and relics – admission is free. After paying our respects there, we crossed now-crowded Church Street and made our way down to the site’s southern end, bounded by Liberty Street, and walked partway down to the WTC Tribute Center.
We had planned this trip without paying attention to the Jewish calendar, and realized before leaving that our Saturday there would also fall on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Though not wholly observant, we do fast on that day, and were doing so then – not easy to do in New York, with food carts everywhere! Somehow, it did not seem inappropriate to be paying respects at this sacred site on that day, even though it involved travel and the use of money. Admission to the Tribute Center is $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and the same price applies to the WTC walking tour. We did both. The center itself has a few large relics, many photos, videos and tributes, and a table where people can record their feelings on cards, which will later be published. I did so. There is a wall of all the names, including all three disaster sites, as well as the names of the six who died in the 1993 attack.
The walking tours last about 75 minutes and are led by people directly connected with 9/11 – family members, survivors, rescue workers, fire fighters. Our group was led by a male rescue workers who had been there when it happened and had seen the full horror of it all. Accompanying him was a woman who had helped with the Salvation Army rescue work beginning the next day. There were five stops. The first was the memorial to the fire fighters, a beautifully engraved sculptured panel perhaps 20 feet long and 5 feet high, mounted on an outdoor wall. 343 firefighters died that day, but a nearby attorney who joined them, worked with them and died with them was later posthumously inducted as the 344th officially recognized firefighter, and 2 more died a few months later working on a seriously damaged building. After that, there were stops at the police memorial – 27 police officers lost their lives – and the American Express memorial – they lost 9 people. We were brought up onto and into elevated corridors where we had extraordinary views of the entire construction site. At the end, both guides spoke more about what had happened and gave their own stories. Details were not spared, but the presentation was respectfully matter of fact. I felt an added degree of closure from it – everyone listened and asked appropriate questions. No one lost control. There was no discussion about the terrorists themselves, and no one mentioned the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy.
Afterwards, we made our way to our hotel – more 2 than 2 1/2 stars, adequate enough, but the lobby and elevators almost had the feel of a college dorm. The best part was the court, with tables, in front where once could relax and watch the passersby.
We don’t normally go to the movies in NYC, but this was different. A hand drawn animation feature, “My Dog Tulip,” had received rave reviews, and was playing at only two theaters in the country, one in L.A. and the other in NYC’s West Houston Street at the Film Forum. And I am so much a dog person. We hopped a bus, missed the 6:15 showing, and broke our fast with a huge Chinese meal around the corner and made the 8 PM show. This film is based on the diary of an Englishman in mid 20th century and his Alsatian – OK, German Shepherd, but understandably, 1950s Brits with recent painful memories shied away from that term. It’s absolutely not a childrens film, and is different, difficult to describe, and unforgettable – it stays with you and grows on you. Not to be a spoiler, but no, you don’t have to witness the loss of the dog Tulip at the end. it’s a superb beautiful film.
We got a bit lost afterwards, wandering in the dark and almost deserted West Houston Street, almost to the river, something that would have been unthinkable decades ago. And across from us, with no one else in view and no traffic, an attractive young woman pedaled her bike. The city has changed! We ended up making our only subway trip. I hate NYC’s subway system for its total and absolute disregard of and noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. There are virtually no elevators and escalators, unlike every other system in the world. Shame on the Big Apple and the Bloomberg (and its predecessors) administrations!
Next morning, we had our included hot breakfast (sausage and cinnamon buns – yum!) and headed for a museum we hadn’t visited before, the relatively new Art and Design Museum at Columbus Circle. We were just in time for the 11 AM 45-minute included tour, led by a perky young Frenchwoman named Geraldine. The sixth floor was occupied by some jewelry exhibits and a jewelry workshop, where every week a new artist is invited to work and to interact with visitors. The third, fourth and fifth floors were occupied by a special exhibit called “Dead or Alive.” Imagine a screen silhouetting a beautiful long Chinese scroll-type landscape. Behind the screen, you discover that the images are cast by non-descript bunches of plants, shrubs and vegetable crops. Dozensof small skulls, each one fashioned from painstakingly fastened-together bits of spices. A delicate thin plaster sculpture – except that it wasn’t plaster, but glued-together cleaned and dried eggshells. Flower arrangements made of bones – beautiful constructions made of dead flies – an old loom used to weave – mouse fur, with a whole sheet of the stuff. Strange animal skeletons, and a huge representation of a great stream of water, amde of thousands of assembled pigeon feathers.
My favorite was a bicycle, with an entire cow skeleton mounted on it, in such a way that someone could mount the bike and ride it, cow skeleton and all. And someone did! Even better, this youngwoman did it close by our Miami Beach home, all around South Beach, and there was a video of it, and yes, she got a lot of attention. I was hoping they’d show her passing by our house, but no such luck. And if she had, I’d have felt badly for having missed her!
We walked through the south end of Central Park, past the many carriages. I read once that in 1900, NYC had 200,000 horses, and in 2000 just 200. We ended up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my favorite place in the city, to go to the top and say our goodbye to the incredible huge all-encompassing “Big Bambu” bamboo forest-like giant THING that covers almost the entire roof. The view from there, of course, is priceless. We’d already seen most of the special exhibits in May, but I wanted to catch the photo exhibits and I never tire of looking at Renaissance-era drawings. And I always walk through the African and Pacific areas and then through the Greco-Roman galleries to see the vases again, and the sweet Roman memorial stone,commemorating an equally sweet young girl, sculptured showing her holding her pet dove.
Afterwards, we sat in Central Park – what a beautiful day it was! – relaxing and discretely sipping cold beer as we watched the cyclists, joggers, and an older woman in a powered wheelchair, tooling along with the cyclists while holding her little black dog. Ah, the dogs! Dogs everywhere in Manhattan, always and forever! There are lots of wonderful, well cared for dogs in Buenos Aires, too, but in Manhattan this trip I saw exactly one instance of dog poop on the sidewalk. In Buenos Aires, and in Madrid – it seems that parts of the sidewalks are paved with poopy. Another thing I noticed. The mayor is on another of his anti-smoking crusade and wants to ban smoking in all parks, beaches and plazas. (No, we are not not smokers)Here’s how many smokers I saw in crowded Central Park on Sunday. Zero!
Our Spirit flight, wonderful to relate, left on time, and our Park’n’Fly van appeared as soon as we exited the terminal. I noticed that while the almost total lack of use of the carryon bins, now that there’sa charge for them, did seem to speed up the boarding a bit, it did nothing to speed up the emptying out of either flight.
It was a sobering, yet fascinating and delightful visit.