29 August 2013

The City That Doesn't Sleep

It seems like such a cliché to write  a post about New York City. Everyone who’s ever gone there has written a story, or a song, or a poem, or something about hustle, bustle, never sleeping and being completely nuts. Yeah, well… I went there and I had a great time, so I guess I’m adding to the cliché. Deal with it.

Kim and I were there about four days all up, and we managed to cram a fair bit into those four days. Day one was mainly taken up with just getting there from Ohio and finding the people we were staying with, but we found some time late in the day to get out and find a dodgy underground comedy club. That was really fun, and really encouraging because it turns out that dodgy comedy clubs in New York City run their nights almost the same way we run our dodgy comedy club back home. We must be doing something right.

The next day started with church with our billets. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go in American churches, but this one was a traditional Methodist congregation, so this Darwin Uniting boy was right at home. They even had a digital organ and a guy who knew how to handle it.

After church we took the train into town to visit the Ground Zero memorial. The museum was still under construction, but the memorial pools that sit in the ground on the site of the original two buildings are open and quite moving. They’re inscribed with the names of all the victims of the 11th of September attacks, and they sit in the shadow of the buildings that have been redesigned and rebuilt.

There was a lot of talk about renaming the new towers things like “Freedom Tower” and “Liberty Tower”,” which each have their merits, I guess. But I really love the new tower names. The old towers were called World Trade Centre 1 and World Trade Centre 2. So what are the new ones called? World Trade Centre 1 and World Trade Centre 2. Suck it terrorists.

To make our contemplative morning complete, we had lunch in a pub across the road run by firefighters. As luck would have it, the firefighter serving drinks that afternoon had been one of the first responders on the ground on the morning of the attacks. He had a scrapbook full of photos and clippings of stuff that was going on that day, but it was just fascinating to hear a story from a guy who found himself buried alive under tower 2, and against all the odds survived, only to have to dig himself out. Then he went back for the others. Crazy heroic stuff.

After Ground Zero we headed for Broadway for our first show of the trip: The Lion King. I hadn’t seen the stage version before, although I loved the movie when I was a kid. I enjoyed remembering all the old songs, but more impressive than the music (apart from old Rafiki, who was sensational) were the sets. The elephant graveyard, Pride Rock and the stampede in the gorge were all very cleverly designed, particularly the way they would appear and then disappear into the floor.

It was a matinee show, so we had some time to kill in town that night. We grabbed some dinner and then caught another comedy show in town. It was a slightly more professional set up this time, but at the same time the comedians were not as good. We still had fun.

The next day was a New York icons day. We started out with a trip up the Empire State Building. That was pretty cool, and we stayed up the top for about forty minutes before riding the lift back down again. Then we caught a subway down to the Statton Island Ferry to get a look at the Statue of Liberty. We would have had to have booked months in advance to actually go over onto Ellis Island, but the ferry ride passed close enough to the statue to get a good look.

We had lunch on Statton Island and then rode the ferry back to Manhattan and walked along the High Line, which is a raised walkway with plants all along it constructed up above the streets. It was really nice walking along there, particularly at sunset.

That night we saw an off-Broadway show called Sleep No More. We were quite excited about the concept of the show, which was based on Macbeth. It was set in an old abandoned hotel, with different scenes of the play being played out in different orders in different rooms of the hotel. Or so we thought. The different levels were all there, the random order was all there, but someone had neglected to let us know that there was no Shakespearean text being done; it was the Macbeth story presented through interpretive dance. I’m sure it was all very modern, cutting edge and symbolic, but it didn’t really impress either of us, so we headed home and got ready for our last day in the Big Apple.

We spent that day strolling through the Museum of Modern Art and Central Park. We hadn’t really been finding time to eat properly with all the sightseeing and show taking-in we were doing, and having had ice cream for lunch we were feeling a bit zonked, so we had a nice dinner at a favourite restaurant of Kim’s before we saw our final show for the trip.

This was probably the highlight of the whole trip: We saw Pippin, which has been revived from its 1970s form and brought back at the Music Box Theatre. I hadn't realised it was a Stephen Schwartz show before we went in, but in hindsight that does explain why the songs were so catchy, original and fun. But the music wasn't the whole event, the show was a combination of cabaret, acrobatics and magic, like a blend of a circus and a Broadway musical. There was always something different happening and some of the acrobatics were astonishing. You can always tell when a show has impressed me, because the first thing I do is look for the music score, which I found in the Broadway souvenir shop. Nice.

And then before we knew it the whirlwind had blown itself out and it was time to head for the beach. But I'm pleased to announce that New York City really was one of those rare places in the world that can live up to its own hype.

Make of that what you will.




Garry with 2 Rs
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