Sunday, September 11, 2005

So Good They Named It Twice

That's right, I'm in New York for the weekend. It's nowhere near enough to expect to see the whole city, so I'm doing my best to soak up the atmosphere as I go along. A tough ask, and one which apparently can leave people feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed simultaneously - too busy trying to do everything, and so not really achieving anything. I hope I haven't fallen into that trap, and am certainly having a great time so far.

The truly grand places in the world may be elaborate, or huge, but never seem over the top. Tom Quad at Christchurch College in Oxford is the best quad because of its proportions, not because of its size. St Peter's in Rome may be tremendously intricately designed, but because it all fits together well, it doesn't seem unnecessarily extravagant. My reaction to New York is similar. At times, my day felt a bit unreal. I visited Liberty Island, and looking back at the famous skyline it didn't seem as if I was only a boat trip away from it - I thought I was still watching it on TV. Yet when I was wandering around, despite the gigantic height of all the skyscrapers, it never felt unnecessarily ostentatious.

As a side note, I stumbled upon Ground Zero (ie, I had no idea whatsoever I was going to end up there when I did). It's only now I truly appreciate the tragedy that took place there four years ago, almost to the day. Despite the Twin Towers being hugely familiar, the space that they took up was immense - whole blocks wide. That was something I just hadn't fully taken in.

The big aim of my day, however, was getting to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. The weather was perfect, even if the top of my head is now glowing - a lovely way to experience the city for the first time. Ellis Island's Museum, too, was nothing short of fantastic. It didn't try to hide away from the cattle-like conditions, and the dehumanisation of the immigrants; the ranger whose tour I took had a super sense of humour whilst getting across the true nature of the centre. The smell, noise, and emotional trauma of the experience for me was really brought home when we were talked through the legal inspection. There was a genuine list of immigrants from the 1900s there, and as the ranger talked us through the answers he said "of course, I didn't call him Thomas Mulligan - I called him Grandpa". If some of the US politicians remembered how recently many of their families could be traced back to Europe, maybe their attitudes towards it wouldn't be quite so sneering.

After that, I walked for a long time. Took the view from the Brooklyn Bridge, then worked my way up to Times Square. Scale came in again. When you emerge from the subway the light almost blinds you, but once you're out on the street it somehow just seems right, not gaudy. I guess I'm going to end up leaving with regret tomorrow, but having had a fantastic weekend.