Big Apple Greetings
First things first: I love New York!
Why, I’m not entirely sure. There is a familiarity about it, which I suspect is made up of the oft-viewed icons of popular culture (taxis, fire escapes, food carts, manholes), combined with the elements that make up many large, tightly-packed cities (underground trains, traffic coordination, footpath (sidewalk!) etiquette).
I also like the feeling of it being a living city. There are residents in Sydney’s CBD, to be sure, but they feel out of place somehow, in comparison to New York’s dog-walkers and cyclists, moving amongst the diners and supermarkets and laundry services. Here, everything has a local, yet city, feel, that I really like.
That said, I’m not sure I would have loved it quite so much, quite so quickly, if I hadn’t had the opportunity to see it for the first time with a New York native, my “Big Apple Greeter“, Dan.
Before we came away, the girls had been mocking me for weeks about my love for the concept of the Big Apple Greeter. “Oh Mum,” they pleaded, every time I tried to tell someone about it, “nobody wants to know about your Big Apple Greeter!”.
Well, you know what? I was right, and everyone should know about it, for IT IS TERRIFIC!
Dan met me on the steps of our midtown apartment and, after a quick rundown of the subway, we began our journey on the High Line. Owned by the city of New York, the High Line was originally a train track that carried goods to the industrial district of Manhattan. It is so many things I love, rolled into one package…the preservation and repurposing of historical elements, the contributions from wealthy benefactors, and the subsequent sense of community.
Plus, the whole walk is made up of art and history and tales of mischief. The first image below is where Carpathia docked with survivors from the Titanic, the second is Do Ho Suh’s, 95 Horatio Street, on the side of the Whitney Museum, showing how the track would once have looked, when it continued downtown. And the third, and my personal favourite, shows the positioning of The Standard hotel, where, according to Dan, guests have been known to flash the passers-by below.
Along the way, we stopped to visit the Chelsea Market, which is housed in the old Nabisco (Oreos, anyone?) biscuit factory. It’s a beautiful space, with many of the old features of the building being carefully preserved. These photos are pretty ordinary, but I was being careful not to be irritating with excessive photography.
Along our travels, Dan (who is just a terrific bloke) told me about another of his charitable enterprises…working for a meals service, in a building donated by Michael Kors. After telling him how much I liked Michael Kors, then sheepishly adding that it was only because I watched Project Runway, we found some compelling common ground…
“Brandon was a clear winner from the beginning.”
“You could really sense the foreshadowing in this season.”
“You can’t just use bright colours, and call it tropical!”
From the High Line, we headed into Greenwich Village, which is just gorgeous, despite what seemed to be an excess of construction going on (many of the streets have street pavers and dated infrastructure, according to Dan, which need ongoing upkeep). There are picturesque little eateries on many of the corners, like the Spanish restaurant below, and when we came across this building (four story, half basement) for sale, Dan immediately searched for it on Zillow, to see how much it was worth.
A cool 8 million, in case you’re thinking of moving.
And just when I thought my day couldn’t get any better, Dan then proved to be better than any Sex & the City tour guide, taking me to THE Magnolia Bakery for a coffee and a hand-frosted Christmas Spice cupcake, and to the very steps of the West Village brownstone that Carrie calls home. I don’t mind saying that it took some effort to contain my fangirl excitement right about now…
Armed with our Magnolia treats, Dan took me to the gates of Christopher Park, which is in fact a US National Monument, managed by the US National Park Service. It was only when we went to sit down, that I realised it was the Stonewall National Monument, right across from The Stonewall Inn. Thrilled as I was to be there, and to see it, it really is odd that they don’t have a trans figure to commemorate the riots.
We walked through Washington Square Park, where we saw Ai Weiwei’s, Arch, which is part of his Good Fences Make Good Neighbors public art exhibition. The park is near New York University, so there were plenty of students around, prompting a discussion about school loans, and why there is no such thing as a free education.
From the west to the east, things start to change. The brownstone elegance of the West Village gives way to the quirkiness of the East Village, and signs for yoga and piercing and tattoos start to pop up alongside the truly eclectic, such as the “Holistic Petcare” store below (1-800-WHISKERS!). Many of the street lamps are decorated in the cracked-tiles style seen below, by The Mosaic Man, who has decorated “sidewalks, stoops, lampposts, planters, storefronts, and interior and exterior signage [in] some of the most recognizable, lasting, and universally acclaimed work by a local artist.” It is quite lovely.
When it came time to eat lunch, Dan suggested that we go to Veselka, a family-owned Ukranian restaurant that has been in the area for over sixty years, where he likes to have borscht. I have to say, that sounded pretty damned incredible. And incredible it was. I had to concentrate on controlling my passionate heavy-breathing eating. The borscht and pierogis were outstanding.
It is difficult to find the words to describe how wonderful my day was. I could have read every Lonely Planet guide and TripAdvisor review under the sun, but it would never have come close to how terrific it was to walk through the streets, chatting with Dan.
The day was about more than seeing landmarks. It was about learning where someone likes to have dinner, and where they shop for their groceries. It was about hearing where they were when 9/11 happened, and how the political climate is affecting the city. It was about catching the subway, and drinking coffee, and eating borscht like a local.
It feels a bit like an American Express advertisement. Coffee and cake from Magnolia Cafe? $8.75. Borscht and dumplings from Veselka? $22.50. Spending the day with Dan?