One fridge magnet in Chinatown reads: New York, the city of Dreams. I am tempted to buy it as a souvenir, desist, but then I get it a couple of days later, even though I don’t fully ‘buy’ it. My skepticism is also confirmed by looking at the tired faces of commuters on the metro, an army of sleep deprived people on jogging shoes, running for their dreams. Everywhere you see smartphones walking their owners with headsets as lashes.
New York can be the city where some make it big, but it is also the city where those dreams are crushed the hardest, judging by the number of homeless people, alcoholics and drug addicts. On a local TV programme they talk about the increase of heroin addicts and whether they should introduce safe shooting rooms. I get the sense that a puritan ethic would struggle to accept that, but some propose it as a solution to dangerous locations scattered around the city.
New York is also the city where those dreams are crushed the hardest
I have the impression that whatever is public is underfunded, you only need to look at the dirty tiles when descending into the metro, so different from the beautiful decorations of the Russian metro in St. Petersburg, but you soon take it for granted and it adds to the charm of the grey trains and black signs of the most visually recognisable metro in the world.
Not everyone is running somewhere though. Sitting on a bench across Zabar’s, a Jewish delicatessen not far from Central Park, I appreciate the efforts of some volunteer trying to convince an old lady to accept something. She resists and I wonder why. Maybe she does not want to miss the show of yellow cabs, buses and cars going up and down the Broadway. Sitting there feels like watching a film and she and her friends don’t want to leave those benches to anyone, in an area where houses sell from half a million dollars and you cannot fail to notice the cleanliness of the pavement, the surgical removal of iron escalators, such a trademark of the city. My friend nicknamed Iron tells me that the new mayor wants them removed. Those stairs outside buildings are certainly heritage, it’s a pity to see them go.
Old versus New
I get the sense that heritage is very much appreciated. But it still the new that has predominance. For example whilst touring Harlem, the tour guide calls our attention towards the new Yankee stadium, completely skipping a lovely little bridge. But she does stop the bus to give us a chance to photograph some of Harlem’s oldest houses.
There is one place where that clash of old and new is played out, and that is Grand Central. A magnificent public transport cathedral, with so much charm I cannot think of a better railway station anywhere in the world. I love London’s stations, like St Pancreas, or Antwerp Central Station in Belgium, but this one surpasses them all for me.
From a display screen at the station I read: “A month after the demolition began at Penn Station, thousands of New Yorkers gathered in Grand Central’s Main Concourse to view the funeral of Jackie’s husband, President John F.Kennedy, underscoring the vital role of Grand Central as a public space.” Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis understood the legacy of Grand Central terminal and in 1975 she worked tirelessly as an advocate for historic preservation. Thanks to her, the Supreme Court of the US upheld the NYC Landmarks Law, saving the station from demolition and setting a precedent for historic preservation throughout the nation.
New York’s Public Library, Bryant Park, Washington Square and New York University buildings, Brooklyn Heights, Little Italy, the endless facades of world restaurants in the East Village, the art galleries of Lower East Side, the New Museum on the Bowery, American beers, the views from the skyscrapers, Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, the new Calatrava station next to the September 11 Memorial, Flatiron district, Chelsea Market and the High Line, MoMa, Guggenheim and the Frick Collection, there is so much else to say about the Big Apple that can be summed up in one invitation: Go visit.
As me and my friends push our trolleys searching for Bowery metro station a guy looks at us and says: “Welcome to the new world.” I thank him with a big smile, but we are actually leaving.
Photos: Marco Ciavaglioli, Marco Boidi, Beppe Simone CC BY-SA