Artwork made from scanned ephemera.
This was my first trip to New York City, and quite frankly, in spite of the crowds and the occasional long, long walk, I found myself captivated by the city's offerings from start to finish.
Lady Liberty from the ferry at dusk.
First off, the city was a lot cleaner than I expected. I've lived in the thick or along the suburban fringes of several big cities--Los Angeles, Honolulu, New Orleans and Houston--but I just assumed that New York would be filthy. Certainly we were tramping along the tried-and-true tourist routes, but we did make a foray into the Brownstone blocks of SoHo on foot. The sense of pride the residents have in their city was evident in the tidy gardens, the cheerful posters taped up in front stoop windows, and the trash bins around business and high traffic areas. We saw a lot of graffiti, primarily on buildings near the roof-top lines, and on phone booth shells and newspaper boxes. I know life is a lot grittier and dirtier in many neighborhoods, but what amazed me was how, in spite of all the people, the city remains clean.
Graffiti on a train car, Newark, NJ, train station.
Second, it was great to be in a city that celebrates the written word--bookshops, magazine stalls, posters, signage, even slogans on tee-shirts and Jumbotrons all blazed with literary fervor, both glorious and mundane. It was great to sink back with a meaty paper--The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post. It was exhilarating to wander through three-story bookstores--whether it was the Fifth Avenue Barnes & Noble or the giant Japanese-language bookstore, Kinokuniya, which was stuffed full of manga, language and travel books and anything else connected with Japan, Asia, or the Pacific Rim. The typefaces and fonts on the signs transcended the blandness of our local malls here in Houston, while the blazing LEDs flashed spangled slogans and scrolling headlines. The word, it seems, permeates New York, whether in English, Arabic, Chinese or Thai, or Farsi.
Chandelier inside Grand Central Station, NYC.
Third, it was exciting to plunge into the wonderful whirl of cultural collisions. Clumps of older Jewish ladies chatting in strong Bronx brogues about the best place to get your hair colored as they paused outside a nail salon, sharply dressed businessmen conversing into their Bluetooths (Spanish, Italian, Chinese, and Hindi). The Syrian, Iranian and Lebanese street vendors displaying racks of halal prepared meats--chicken, beef, and lamb. The bellhop manager at our hotel was Danish, and the desk clerk was Philipina. Markets had shelves stocked with Tex-Mex, Asian, British and American foods. Delis served breadstuffs from around the world--croissants, scones, bagels, and baklava. Fruit vendors had papayas, apples, mangoes and more. You could eat and shop your way around the globe without venturing more than a few city blocks.
Fire escape details in Tribeca.
Fourth, New York City's architectural history is so rich and complex that there was no way I could capture it with my camera, and I don't have the vocabulary to describe it with accuracy. Buildings were bedecked with carved details, exquisitely decorated facades, wrought iron embellishments and treatments created with brick or stone. Glass-covered skyscrapers gleamed like sabers, and reflected the cloud shapes against blue glass. Trees cloaked in summer greenery draped over park fences of weathered wrought iron. Sculptures, reliefs, carved doors, capped cornices, gargoyles and the fascinating symmetry of the fire escapes created a stunning tableau. Even the scaffolding erected across the face of buildings undergoing repairs had a sturdy sense of purpose. So much different than the calm sameness of the suburb where I live. So jam-packed with history and lives.
Near Times Square.
Yes, I think I want to go back to New York City.