A few weeks ago I went on a trip to New York City. I took some pictures and gathered some wisdom that I would like to share.
Empire State Building.
what i’ve learned:
1. The New York City Subway is gross in a way that the London Underground is not.
I don’t know what it is, or what measures are being taken to keep people in London from defiling all areas of public transport like they do in New York, but the one just makes you feel a little less like taking a shower afterwards.
New York City Subway stalactites.
2. The people are weirdly, freakishly nice and helpful.
I read a lot about issues of inequality on the internet, and most of these posts and incidents happen in the States. There is an endless stream of news about hate and intolerance and crime along these lines. Women get catcalled and harassed on the streets. Entire websites are dedicated to the horrific treatment of employees in the service industry. And yet the many, many people I have met during my two weeks there have all been extremely kind. A woman who was clearly in a hurry stopped to help me to buy my first metro card. A barista took the time to parade all six paper cup sizes for me and my dad, even though there was a queue of about twenty impatient people behind us. I got catcalled exactly once, but the perpetrators had the good grace to look appropriately sheepish when I favoured them with my Withering LookTM. I felt welcomed and loved throughout my trip. It was such a treat.
Lady Liberty herself.
3. These people know how to do carbs.
Seriously, it’s a skill and the New Yorkers have it down pat. An absolutely awesome place called Hill Country Chicken offered a side called ‘cheesy fried mashed potatoes’ which is basically fries and melted cheese inside mashed potatoes. So carbs deep fried in carbs on a bed of carbs. I gained 4kg.
Five Guys hamburgers and fries.
4. I made some ‘friends’.
Okay, I really did have a good time with my sister’s colleagues one night in a rodeo bar (and yes, I got so drunk I rode the bull…) but I’m talking about the time I met a guy who no one will be able to convince me is not the 21st century incarnation of Chandler Bing. He came complete with benignly cute features, boring corporate job, oversized overcoat, defensive humour and jaded bitterness about his luck with women and life in general. And it all happened in Manhattan. It was too perfect.
5. South African bookstores have failed us.
One afternoon I ditched the family and went to the Barnes and Noble at Union Square. I had been to ‘proper’ bookstores before while in London, but I must have somehow forgotten what that was like, because the sheer size of the store blew my mind a little. It had many levels packed with any sort of book you can think off, but what impressed me the most was the science fiction and fantasy section. To put things into perspective: there was more than one shelf. Can you believe that? More than an entire wall dedicated to any possible science fiction or fantasy book or graphic novel that you could think of. Here in SA I just glance over the few rows of books available to me, and upon seeing nothing new, resolve to try my luck on Amazon instead. In that Barnes and Noble I was faced with an entire library’s worth of books to choose from. I found the whole experience so bewildering that I left without browsing through any of it!
New York Public Library.
6. Being homeless in New York is an exercise in logistical ingenuity.
Look, I’m not making anyone’s plight off as easy, but being homeless in a city that has a winter minimum temperature of 9°C (48,2°F) like Cape Town does, must be marginally easier than dealing with the well-below freezing temperatures that New Yorkers often have to face. One consequence is that the homeless I encountered in Manhattan have a lot more clothing, luggage and blankets than their Capetonian counterparts, as staying warm during the winter requires a lot more effort. I saw cleverly rigged wheelie suitcases, backpacks, and even a labrador with what appeared to be bicycle panniers.
The very long shadow of the Empire State Building.
7. First world poverty is a lot less visible, but its still there.
Which brings me to my next point: In South Africa (and Africa in general) a hungry person is often a person who also doesn’t have money to pay rent or even buy shoes. You can pick them out of the crowd: their need is very visible. In New York I often saw homeless individuals who clearly weren’t too hardup for cash to adequately feed themselves, but had simply chosen to forgo the huge expense of paying rent in favour of affording other things. Likewise, there were a lot of helpful people who offered free meals to the hungry on subway cars, making me realise that a person who managed to make rent and clothe themselves may, in fact, have come up short when it came to feeding themselves. The problem with such an invisible form of poverty is that can be very easy to ignore or gloss over.
Corner of. . .something and something. There are a million other crossings just like this.
8. It’s the same…but different.
Like the UK, the US gives me a distinct feeling of having passed into a parallel universe. Most of the TV I watch is, after all, made in the US, so most of it is very familiar, and none of it is exactly foreign. Which causes that uncanny valley effect where it feels like the world is pretending to be the real deal, when in fact it is a cheap imitation of the original with nothing quite the same shape, size and taste as it should be.
Horse and carriage in West 59th Street.
note on the pictures:
During my studies at university my photography lecturer, Jean Brudrit (yes, I had a photography lecturer and still my photographs look like this. Some people just never learn…) took the time to patiently explain to us that any place or experience can be distilled into a series of ten definitive photographs. This digital age that we find ourselves in has allowed me to take hundreds of photographs across three devices, but I have tried to honour that idea and chose what I believe to be the most relevant ones for this post. I gave up on choosing just ten and instead settled for the next round number: twenty. Then I also threw in some panoramic shots for good measure. And a video, because I can’t help myself.
Times Square as seen at night from the Empire State Building.
One World Trade Centre towering above the financial district.
Times Square at night.
New York City China Town.
The Brooklyn Bridge.
St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Rockefeller Centre as seen looking up from the sunken plaza.
The Russian Tea Room.
Atypical terraced housing.
The Flatiron Building in snow.
View from the Empire State Building looking west. Click to embiggen.
View from the Empire State Building looking southeast. Click to embiggen.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park. Click to embiggen.