|DAY 5 (Sun 10th Oct)
Bob & Jean drove me to Rochester airport to get the flight down to La Guardia NY. I would like to say what a truly delightful, generous and friendly couple they are. It felt as though we had been friends for years, and it was only a short while since we last met, not 11 years. They have gone out of their way to show me their home terriory and home State, of which they are very proud. Thank you, Bob & Jean, for the wonderful time I had with you. I mean it when I say come and visit on your next European trip. (Although after your visit to Antarctica next Feb, Europe will seem a bit tame!)
The flight was in a Dash 8, with only one Flight Attendant. I had to laugh at the Safety announcement, made by the Attendant, who had to put down the microphone each time she had to point out emergency exits, oxygen, life jackets etc. It looked very homey. Great views of the approches to New York, as the cloud broke up obligingly, showing us flying down the Connecticut coast and over a town where I lived as a 6 year old boy, Old Greenwich. We then had a leisurely swing right over the top of Manhattan and Brooklyn before making our approach over the bay into La Guardia. My Hotel was on 34th Street and 8th Avenue, near Penn station and Madison Square Gardens. It was mid-afternoon by now, so I went walking to familiarise myself with the area, and went to bed early, as the time-change from England was kicking in.
DAY 6 (Mon 11th Oct)
This was a walking day, to re-acquaint myself with places I knew and visited as a young boy. (I was at boarding school in Kent, while Dad was working for the BBC in North America. I visited during the summer holidays.) Early breakfast in a 50's style diner, then straight to Empire State Building by 8:45. Already good queue, but told that wait was less than 1 hour. True to their word, by 1 hour and 5 mins I was in a new queue for buying tickets. 30 minutes later, nearing the front of the Q, the booths closed down and an announcement was made that all electrical power was lost on the 2nd floor (where you Q again for the lifts) so they were turning us all out of the building. Some negotiations took place between a few of us at the front of the Q and the manager, and finally we persuaded them to allow us to buy our tickets but come back later or another day. Now why didn't they think of that? I set off up 5th Avenue, which was being prepared by the Police for the annual Columbus Day parade. Looked in to Grand Central Station, an extraordinary place from which to catch your commuter train. (All they have left now, as the long distance trains don't run any more.) Past Rockefeller Centre, home of the famous open-air ice rink, equally famous(?!) for being where my father worked from 1959 to 1962, with a view from his 45th floor office over St Patricks Cathedral, the other side of the road. Next stop Central Park, strolling through this fantastic oasis of calm in the middle of the mindless bustle of the city; a green lung in the airless surroundings. The Park is looking great now, after years of neglect. Great efforts are being made now to re-juvenate the whole area, no mean task because the Park is huge. The autumn sunshine was very warm, but in the shade reminded of the approaching cold weather. From Central Park, I walked east, by this time up near 90th street, across to East River. I got there just in time to see what looked like a block of flats whizzing dowstream. In fact it was a local oil barge, unladen and high in the water, almost the same size as an ocean-going tanker, being pushed by a tug. The river was flowing very fast (tide going out?) so the whole thing went by in a flash. Walked downstream along a walkaway reminiscent of the Embankment in London, to 52nd Street, where moving west, I paid homage to the apartment where my parents lived for 3 years. Walking the streets below reminded me of the time a subway train caught fire in a tunnel under the East River, and I watched from the balcony of the flat as smoke and escaping passengers emerged from gratings along the street under our windows. The balcony had magnificent views of the East River and further downstream, the United Nations building. I went past the UN, and then turned west again. I had been noticing the chains and cables used by New Yorkers to secure their bikes (of which there are a surprising number). They were so massive that the QM2 would have been proud of them. Bolt-cutters would have been ineffecitive against them, and it would have taken 5 minutes with an oxy-acetylene torch to cut through them. The downside must have been the 10 or 12 pounds weight they added to the bike when pedalling. There is an obvious issue with theft in NY, and I have my goodies in a camera bag around my neck, or in a money belt under my clothes. Hopefully I won't attract the attention of an unwanted visitor. Finally got back to the Empire State Building, where the queues had disappeared, and got to the top in good time. The weather was spectacular, and you could see for miles. There were 2 things for Brits to feel proud of, the QM2 in dock, and Concorde on display where the ships used to dock. Such a shame that she is grounded now, but that opens up another can of worms which I won't visit now! That evening walked up to 58th Street to a Salsa class, only to find it wasn't being held because of the Holiday. So back to the Hotel, having walked more than 160 blocks N to S, and 25 blocks E to W (about 4 times the length of N-S blocks) I don't know the distance, but it felt a long way.
DAY 7 (Tues 12th Oct)
Another nice day, but colder. Subway to southern tip of Manhattan, and the Ferry to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (where 6 million + immigrants were processed before setting foot onto the mainland.) The Statue was not open (renovations or security measures, not sure which) and Ellis Island was very moving, but it didn't have the deep emotional impact on me that it does on US citizens. I then walked up to Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Centre. For a moment, I was completely overcome with emotions of grief for all the death and suffering that occurred that day - it is a hole in the ground as they wait for the final decisions on what will replace the Twin Towers, and just that simplicity of emptiness with one piece of broken structure set up as a cross was deeply moving. What has changed since that day? Has the West altered it's headlong pursuit of profit and happiness? Have the Muslims learned to understand us any better? I would love to think that those tragic events had actually made a lasting difference for the better, in the way we all view the world and it's future, but I fear that a chance has been missed. Continued walking through the Financial area, Chinatown and thence back to the Hotel. Just in time to change to go to my Salsa class. This was held in a small studio on the 4th floor of a converted brownstone building. All the apartments had been ripped out, and the space divided up into areas used for studios, rehearsal space, offices etc. There were about 36 of us in a space about one third the size I am used to in Torquay, so it was very cosy! The teacher, Maria Torres, was dynamite! She was less than 5 feet tall, from Puerto Rico?, but had enough personality to fill the Albert Hall. She was able to deal with each of us on a personal level, with a lot of ribaldry with students she knew well, at the same time as conducting the class on her own, showing us both roles. (As she said, sometimes she was Maria, and at others she was Mario!) They were a very friendly, and international, bunch, with only about half from New York city itself. I know this, because Maria made us do a little introduction, which helped break the ice. Then back to the Hotel to pack.