Monday, 21 July 2008

New York

So here we are in New York, which Jenny and I haven't seen for 12 years but which seems much the same. Skyscrapers hustle and bustle, tiny hotel rooms, pizza, art galore, baseball, skinny women in weeny shorts, overpaid city slickers and underpaid grafters.

The major change is of course the huge vacant lot where the World Trade Center used to be - and whose roof we stood on the last time we visited. Construction of the new buildings is now well under way.

Like Chicago, people from all over the world are mingling and working together. We went to the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island to learn how immigrants once applied for citizenship, the restrictions and prejudice they faced, and how they got by in this unfamiliar country. There are many sad and tragic stories. Some didn't even survive the dreadful conditions on the overcrowded boats.

To complement that, we revisited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which shows how typical families lived in an Orchard Street tenement at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. They had to contend with grasping landlords, contaminated food, lethal infections and uncleared refuse.

Naturally we looked in at the revamped Museum of Modern Art and the brilliant Dali exhibition, complete with some of his movies. We also had a peek at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and Pawel Althamer's strange human figures.

But my conclusion after several days here - I prefer Chicago. It seems to be going places while New York is standing still or even going backwards. The gap between rich and poor is very visible, with ragged hobos outside opulent office blocks. Air pollution is severe as is traffic congestion. The sewers always overflow after heavy rain. It feels like a city struggling to cope with limited resources. Still a Big Apple, but a Bruised one.

Photo: Ellis Island, just south of Manhattan, where more than 12 million immigrants entered the USA.


Wisewebwoman said...

I'd just love to see that tenement museum, Nick. And I've never been to Ellis either.
It sounds like you are having a very interesting time.

Baino said...

Aww, bruised or not, I'd still like to see any of it . . the Gugenheim, ride in Central Park, eat a chili dog on the corner of 5th Avenue, catch a yellow cab! Certainly packing plenty into the holly Nick . .have a load of fun! There's a great noodle house opposite the WTC site, under a clothing discount store apparently!

Quickroute said...

Bit of Trivia for you. Annie Moore a wee Irish lass was the first immigrant to the United States to pass through the Ellis Island facility. I think you can still see her shoes. I only found this out by visiting a pub of the same name in midtown.

I prefer New York to Chicago but I am biased as I used to live in NY. Sounds like you're having a great time. Keep the travel reports coming!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Well, you have to agree that at least New York has an ocean while that pretender, Chicago, does not.

Sorry, but I'm a New Yorker. To all of us, "the city" refers only and always to New York. There is no other.

Anonymous said...

We wanted to go to Ellis island but the queue was massive - I'm jelaous. Same with the tenement museum the tours were sold out or at difficult times. I'm mad jealous :-)

Nick said...

We're home now. What a fantastic trip! But my God was it hot - well over 90 in New York!

WWW - The Tenement Museum gets better and better. They're gradually restoring the whole building, which will eventually include the old beer cellar in the basement.

Baino - Well, I guess everyone should see New York at least once, it's certainly unlike anywhere else! But the rampant commercialism is really over the top.

Quicky - Funnily enough, we went on the Moore family tour, but it was a much earlier Moore family who lived there in 1869.

Heart - True, it has an ocean, but New Yorkers don't pay it much attention and there aren't any beaches! You're clearly a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker!

Conor - What a shame you didn't get to those two. The hour-long wait for the Ellis Island ferry in burning heat was a disgrace. Running only one ferry for both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is absurd. But more on NY's inefficiency later!

Medbh said...

I'd be tempted to pick NYC over Chicago except for the cost of living. Chicago is an oasis in the American Midwest surrounded by a whole lotta nothing. But I'd be dirt poor if we lived in Manhattan.

Nicole said...

I'd almost agree with you Nick, except that I like my big cities to be a little dirty (and I actually prefer the highly underrated Philly to NYC). But NYC has for years rested on the fact that it's NYC while other cities have made efforts to improve and catch up to it. Still, there's not much to compare to the smell, attitude, and liveliness of New York...always something to do. Definitely couldn't afford to live there, though.

Thriftcriminal said...

Interesting, I haven't been to New York, and reckon it'll be a while before I do. This hasn't encouraged me to go there over a re-visit to Chicago or Boston.

Nick said...

Mebdh - We certainly noticed the difference in prices between the two cities. But we found a great pizzeria near our hotel which was also very cheap. And of course the subway is dirt cheap.

Nicole - We definitely got the feeling NY was resting on its laurels and didn't see much need to improve anything - though there's plenty of room for improvement. But more about that later!

Thrifty - Well, maybe you should at least look in for a few days just to get the atmosphere. It's utterly unique if nothing else. And my opinion is thoroughly biased I'm sure!