Wow, what a great day yesterday. I went with my friend, Danielle, who is a native New Yorker, born and raised in Harlem, and she took me on a walking tour through the southern-most part of the island known as Manhattan. You may have heard of it. 😉 I met her at 23rd Street and 7th Avenue. We walked through (now this won’t be in order as I still don’t quite know the order of things) Chelsea (which is basically where we started), the West Village, Soho, Wall Street . . . oh darn, I can remember the other areas. But it was so great. I have pictures but I realized my computer doesn’t seem to be recognizing the cable from my camera. AAAArgh. I’ll see if I can find some pics on line.
Okay, I’ve just found some pics on the internet. I just found a picture that is literally about three blocks from me. It’s where Danielle and I ended up at the end of our day but I want you to see it cause it’s more or less where I’m living here right now.
So we started walking south. It’s amazing how the architecture changes as you go through each area. Apparently, the city was built from the southern-most part up; from the ports up, which makes a great deal of sense. The first major place we walked through was Union Square
Come on, look at that photo. It’s so great. I was coming over all Emma Goldman. (look it up) There were people having lunch or hanging out. There were all of these artists displaying their pictures. One had something neither Danielle nor I had never seen before. This guy had these pictures of black folk (that’s right, I said black folk and I’m not sorry) in these beautiful earth tones but when you get close and read his sign, you realize they are all created using sand. What?!! Gorgeous and sensuous but so amazing. Basically he had used a hard substance (sand being small rocks, basically) and created these incredibly graceful, curved, voluptuous shapes. I totally forgot I had my camera in my bag but apparently it wouldn’t have mattered as I don’t seem to be able to download stuff anyway. RATS! DOUBLE RATS!!
Anyway, we also came around to a man who was creating a mural on the ground with coloured sand. I know it sounds like it was coloured sand day but where the other man had created hanging pictures with variations of earth toned natural sand, this gentleman was using red sand, blue sand, green sand, orange sand, etc. And with his hands, streaming the sand into shapes on the ground. While he was working, a little wind come up and blew it a little and he’d fix it if he could or put the right colour over what had blown. It began a whole conversation between Danielle and I as we walked away. She had seen this before and in the past had asked a different sand artist what he does when he’s finished. He said, “you just have to walk away and leave it to be destroyed or walked over or whatever.” I commented to her that it must be an incredibly zen thing to be doing. Or rather, you’d have to be zen about it. People can accidentally walk over it, the wind can blow it, thoughtless will destroy it, rain, will wash it away. It would be a huge lesson in humility and patience and, indeed, in letting go. Quite something. Imagine if what you do for a living was destroyed within seconds or minutes as soon as you were done it – every time. If it were me, I’m not sure someone wouldn’t be injured . . . .
Aaaaaanyway, from there we walked around the corner and ran into some kind of mini-street fair – food and trinkets and clothes. Danielle hadn’t eaten so she wanted a sausage in a bun. Now I was expecting a sausage in a bun like we get at home and which I do know you can get on the street here too. But she goes up to this stand and orders, and they give her this 1 1/2 inch thick, 10″ sausage that they’re cutting off 0f what looks like a 4 foot coil cooking on the grill, then the lady proceeds to lay about a cup of sauteed onions and peppers over top of it. Children, they do not do things small here in New York. I laughed for about 3 minutes. We walked through that a bit until we detoured off to keep walking. (I finished the blog and managed to find a photo of what I’m talking about, only her sausage was another 2 inches long.)
This is where I start to forget the order. We were just walking and chatting. What is cool is that because of the fact that the city was built from the south up, the buildings start to spread out as you get further north. So as you walk south, the buildings get closer together and narrower. It may go back really far but the front is really narrow. Particularly in Soho. Soho is a big shopping area. All of the major stores are there and little stores and interesting bits. The picture below gives a bit of an idea of how packed it is and busy. Actually the street was way busier than that. At one point Danielle, who is not particularly patient with “wanderers”, has to veer off to the other side of the street because she was about to tear the tourists a new one. (If any of you are asking “a new one of what” – think about it)
Soho is quite amazing. All these name stores, upscale and midscale, packed into these 10-15 streets. But talk about your one-stop shopping. It’s a bit like Bloor between Yonge and Bathurst but the buildings are, mostly, all older.
It was around this time we made out way towards the West Village (I think – don’t quote me on the order). It’s one of Danielle’s favourite areas because, to quote her, she “loves her gays”. She told me that, apparently, the Sunday before every major holiday, there is a big gay party somewhere huge that starts on Sunday night and goes until Tuesday. Wow, that’s a lot of gay to pack into two days. (A little gay Chelsea/West Village shot for dramatic effect)
This is actually on Christopher street in Chelsea (again, these are not pictures I took, just pictures I’m finding on line which are better than the ones I took anyway). The West Village is fun. You know that whenever you end up in a mostly gay area, you’re going to have great shops and cafes and gourmet grocery places and little boutique and fun bars, etc. Well there certainly are.
Plus there is a spa there that Danielle said was great for men and women and that I should check it out at some point. Well, that will have to wait till I’m a little more . . . liquid, as it were. But I’ll just store that info in my back pocket.
From there we headed to Chealsea Piers where there is this great boardwalk that runs from way uptown on the west side, around the southern waterfront, and back up the east side. I’ve been looking for place to start running (I’ve started to run – seeing if I like it and how my body takes it. So far, no casualties)
It was along here that we saw a bunch of people out lying on the grass (which you can’t see in the photos). There are sort of grassy hill sections with room for handfuls of sun-bathers to be out and about. Someone caught my eye from a distance at one point, this person was sort of propped on a half chair or something and on a quick, fleeting glance, my instinct said it was a man but something in the back of my brain said that there was something that didn’t visually add up. I looked again (still at a bit of a distance thought we were walking in that direction and getting closer) and saw that this person was wearing a bikini top and had long hair. So I thought, “oh, hmm my instincts must be off a bit – new city, new experiences; perhaps I’m overstimulated” But I know my instincts are rarely wrong (when i listen to them) so I looked again for any tell-tale signs of actual femininity besides the bikini and I asked Danielle if it was a man or a woman. She took a quick glance and said a woman. I keep looking and said, ” . . . I don’t think so”. Finally we got close enough. . . . . now I have to say here I’ve seen many men and women and variations on a theme and I enjoy all of God’s unique creatures. But this one had a story I could not for the life of me figure out. It was, in fact, a man but let me paint this picture. He was simply a man in a bikini. No other tell-tale signs of femininity. He wasn’t wearing make-up, he didn’t have fake boob – though his bikini top was padded with something, he clearly was not taking any hormones of any kind, thin and angular with no tell-tale signs of being “in transition”. Now he may have been just beginning the process (which I applaud if that’s his choice) but if he was, it was so early, it seemed a bit of wishful thinking than actual effort. Imagine Jeff Goldblum with blond hair in a bikini. . . . . Are you picturing it? . . . . There, now you see what we were looking at. I won’t lie, that gave us both a laugh for about 5 minutes.
Then we started to head back east again and ended up in Washington Square in Greenwich Village. So cool. They love their big, honkin’ open squares here and I see why. There is a huge fountain in the centre and a beatiful arch beyond it. The Memorial Arch is to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as president of the United States and it’s modelled after the Arch De Triomphe in Paris.
What also cool about the square is that it’s so big and with the water feature, each corner had a different musician playing something – one had two drummers giving some cuban flava’, one had a full-on upright piano and drums laying down some Michael Jackson, another had some neo-hippies chirping some “kumbaya”- tinged, tambourine fiesta, then by the arch was a young guy playing guitar and singing Christmas songs – and by the time you got to each one, you could barely, if at all, hear the last musician you left. I love this freakin’ city.
As we walked through the arch, and up a block, we came to this one street, that had gates which were closed at night according to the sign, called the Washington Mews. We walked into the street and on one side the buildings were rather modernish and the other side looked like we were in 18th/19th century France. We had no idea what that was about. But take a look. So bizarre.
Thanks to Wikipedia, I found out it used to be stables that serviced horses for the homes in the area but since the 1950’s, they’ve served as housing, offices and other facilities for New York University.
At that point, we continued east, back to Broadway, which is basically the Yonge Street of New York City as it stretches from the top to the bottom and goes through every bourrough (sp?), and then headed south again through Wall Street. My God, talk about a change in architecture.
It literally just suddenly becomes these buildings. Gorgeous and awe-inspiring. Statues and people and bronze this and gilt that.
Very official looking. Including a couple of huge gated buildings that even Danielle didn’t know what were used for. Eventually we came to the area of Ground Zero (were the twin towers were). But before we got there, Danielle showed me Trinity Church. I had not heard of it until now but an amazing story. It is comparatively small church in the Wall Street district. It’s where George Washington worshipped so it is not fresh to begin with. It has a cemetery on both sides of it with headstones from that time. It is not more than about 2 or 3 blocks from ground zero. Many buildings nearby were badly damaged and way newer. The church barely had a scratch. Not a tombstone was moved. I found this incredible shot from the aftermath of September 11.
Apparently it was one of the main places used for firefighters and police and helpers as a haven, shelter, food and aid dispensory Amazing. Here it is in all it’s cleaned up glory. The little church that could . . . . and did.
That prompted a chat between Danielle and I. Of course, religious people will instantly attribute that to God. And I am not refuting that, so no one get all uppity and say that’s where I’m going with this. Religion, we have seen, like everything else, can have it’s good points and it’s bad points. But what is constant is positive and negative energy and I think it’s cool that this church that has seen hundreds of years of energy come in and out, had enough positive energy to create a. . a what . . . a positive energy force-field around itself and it’s foundations. Just interesting to think about.
Whew, I’m getting tired again, just writing about all of this. So then we walked to the Ground Zero site. Wild to actually be there. I have to admit, there isn’t a lot of energy the way I thought there would be but as Danielle reminded me, it’s been 9 years. She told me some wild stories which I won’t go into here – perhaps another time, perhaps not. It was almost impossible to fathom the effect on the people nearby and the towers nearby and what a horror it must have been for those first few weeks, months, years. The energy, the debris, etc. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it. I don’t really have much else to say about it right now. What else is there to say? It is one of the greatest tragedies of the century.
So we continued down to the water and I got to see . . . .(drum roll) Lady Liberty herself. . . . well from a distance. She’s not right there but you can see her.
Now, Danielle told me an interesting story which I’ve been online trying to research but I can’t find a definitive answer on either way. There is a . . . a what? . . . not a “story” but a possible fact that the Statue’s face was originally modelled after a black woman. She was a gift to (partly/wholly) commemorate the U.S. ‘s freeing of it’s slaves or of it’s own freedom . . .?? This is what is in question. Apparently, instead of the book, she was originally holding a broken chain. And, in fact, when the chain was changed to a book, the broken chains were placed at her feet instead where they now sit but you can’t really see them from the ground. The robes she is wearing are inspired by Egyptian freed slave garments. So far, I haven’t seen real proof that it’s totally true but I also haven’t seen total proof that it’s not true. Hmmmmm Either way, that is good shit, right?
So we sat and looked out at Staten Island and Jersey and THE ATLANTIC OCEAN – What?!!! Awesome. After that, we were both too freakin’ exhausted to move so we grabbed the bus back up to my neck of he woods. In fact, that’s when we ended up exactly where this picture is:
It was 6 hours later. Danielle and I said our goodbyes and I came home to some yummy dinner and started in to some work in Priscilla before, SURPRISE/SURPRISE, falling asleep pretty early. It was a beautiful day in this beautiful and amazing town. And I gotta tell ya, it’s kind of fun bringing you all along with me. I hope you’re enjoying the ride so far. More to come.