Probably the only place in the world where despite the fact you’re visiting for the first time in my life, it seems to you that already know them. Yellow, trumpeting taxis, passing through the streets intersecting at right angles over which hovers a pair of drains, fans, pipes. Stands with hot dogs, skyscrapers in Art-Deco style, and under them people speaking in all languages of the world. Sounds familiar? Of course! This is New York! We all know it by watching hundreds of movies and TV series since we were kids.
It is through these images that permanently etched in my memory, passing the fifth avenue, or twenty-first, third, or other street with number instead of name, I felt like a child.
Together with Paulina – a Pole, who also accompanied me in Singapore, a city that we visit, we decided to first see in from above. There were two options: the famous Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. We choose the second skyscraper. Empire Of course, runs my imagination much more, it’s a skyscraper, which long remained the highest in the world (1931-1970), but found that the cooler will have a view of it than from it. And so it presents Manhattan from Rockefeller Center:
Green breach in the urban jungle
From the top stands out two things. Forrest of skyscrapers, which began climbing up in the XIX century as a result of rapidly rising land prices (as it was expensive to build across this it was necessary to build up). And a large green oasis (which at the time of my first visit was actually white :) ), which is Central Park, where I had the pleasure to walk and run every time I flew to New York (3 times already).
It was built in the second half of the XIX century on marshy land between New York and the village of Harlem. To deal with marshes, which were the biggest problem were planted 26 thousand trees! Imagine that in the summer months when the trees covered with green robe leaves, in the park you can find plenty of places where you can’t see a single building, so you can really feel like out of the city.
Besides the obvious function of the oasis and recreation for the newyorkers, Central Park was also created to serve another very important function – a bridge between the richest and the poorest. Place a completely egalitarian, to which everyone can come.
And so, without a doubt, is still. At the time of writing this plot I’m sitting on the bench in the Central Park basking in the spring sunshine. On my left, sitting two older, Afro-American ladies, dressed in a slightly frayed clothes, nibbling bread. On the right, about forty years old, white, resting after Sunday jogging. Clad in clothes of Under Armour and New Balance. In the hand Gatorade. And so we sit all together watching some guy playing amateur baseball in the Sunday afternoon.
New York in film frame
My main mode of transport in the Big Apple is subway. The only one in the whole world subway system working around the clock, seven days a week, is an attraction itself. It’s difficult to have a ride without encountering some street artists. Once they are older black men singing in the choir. Another time, teenagers jumping and spinning on the arms, or people selling cookies or other primitive goods, that income from them will support some charity.
Same stations, to put it mildly, not fragrant lavender, and they haven’t been opened yesterday either. But what an atmosphere! It reminded the Money Train, and in the dark tunnels I tried to spot Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ;)
If it suppose to be a New York in a film frame I can’t forget to mention the Grand Central Terminal, which I particularly liked because of the much lower percentage of tourists than anywhere else in Manhattan. Great main hall, hurrying people, the American flag and pictures from films such as Superman, The Avengers, Conspiracy Theory, or K-PAX.
We go further by subway and enter the world of the Wolf of Wall Street. Exchange No. 1 in the world. Big money, big scams, cocaine from mirrors, an exclusive escort ladies. And we… simple people even couldn’t catch the bull by his horns because poor was surrounded by dozens of tourists.
The melting pot
That’s what the New York strikes most besides of skyscrapers is the number of people and races and nationalities they represent. It is the most densely populated city in the United States (more than 8 million people in the area of 790 km2). It is also the most linguistically diverse city in the world. It is said here you can hear 800 languages! 36% of the population is of foreign origin, the biggest nationalities in numbers are the Dominican Republic, China, Jamaica, Mexico, India (on a flight from Dubai around 75% of passengers), and Ecuador.
And strolling through the streets of the city this multicultural is well seen. Gift shops dominated by Indian owners, all the taxi drivers seems to be Pakistanis and everywhere Latinos. There are already so many (29% of the population), that everything is bilingual, English and Spanish. Signs at the airport, parks opening hours or ads in the subway. Still one of the most numerous breed are white (33%), blacks represent 23% of the population and 13% are Asians.
The ethnic melting pot of languages also manifests itself in the cuisine. The newcomers from around the world promoted bagels, pizza, falafels and kebabs. However, the most popular and still unrivaled delights of New York remain the pretzels and hot dogs, which you can get almost anywhere from characteristic stands that have become a symbol of the city.
But to be honest the flavor of these legendary hot-dogs didn’t pin me down. It’s just sausage in a bun with ketchup and mustard. I prefer to have a traditional Polish Turkish kebab on a thin crust :D
Following the trails of Immigrants
Hallmark of not only New York but whole USA – Statue of Liberty didn’t knocked me down. I didn’t bother to go on top. I read going on top is a big challenge given the narrowness of the stairs, hunching tall people and stuffiness. “Well, but at the top a rewarding view is waiting!” you will say. Apparently, the only thing you can see is water of the Hudson River. I believed and I didn’t go.
But the place during this cruise I was interested it the most from the beginning was Ellis Island. At the turn of the XIX and XX century, when the obligation to protect the coast was shifted from authorities of individual states to the federal government, Ellis Island was the gateway for all Europeans wishing to settle in America (in the years 1892 to 1924 the island was visited by approximately 12 million immigrants from the old continent).
Remember the scene from the Godfather, when small Don Corleone arrived on a huge ship to be next moved to quarantine zone or a few weeks? Exactly! It was Ellis Island. Newcomers from Europe after completing a multi-day trip by boat had to line up in a huge hall and held a brief conversation with a representative of government and a doctor. From where they are coming from, for what purpose, how much they have money or are they sick etc. (in total about 20 questions). The official shall decide whether a person can sail to the mainland, to New York, go to the quarantine zone, or go back to the place they came (criminal history – only 5%).
Behind hundreds of pictures and videos that I’ve seen in the museum, hid stories of people who, in an era without the Internet, television, telephone, left their life, family, homeland to start a new life, from zero, in a place about which they only heard oral stories, often probably colorized.
The other side of the city, where the dream comes true
In the end I’ll take you to Brooklyn, by the famous Brooklyn Bridge – the tourist attraction itself.
But when you found myself on the other side of East River, tourists, magically disappeared, and I could do what I love the most, walk and watch the natives. This district is not homogenous ethnically. Part inhabit Jews, some Americans of Italian origins, some African-Americans, and Greenpoint by Poles! But I’ll write about neighborhoods of New York another time.
And what drove me into this side of the city? A dream that remained unfulfilled throughout the 17 years! Since 1998 when I started playing basketball and watching NBA games, I wanted to watch such a game not through tv screen.
I finally got the chance. April 25 Anno Domini 2015 local Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs (competition phase where they weigh the fate of the master league) against Atlanta Hawks. And just at this very day, I was in New York. At the arena I already arrived 2 hours before the game. Gates opened half an hour later. Heart beats hard, gooseflesh, smile not leaving the face.
During security search officers finds in my pockets chopper, gun and kilo of cocaine, but what hurts me the most is the confiscation of the camera, considered as a professional: |
Finally I go inside and the heart beats harder. On each seat Shirt Brooklyn Nets – We are Playoffs, that the whole arena looks equally. I sat down as one of the first of the 18,000 spectators who watch the game. I sit, I laugh to myself and I do not believe where I am. Pure happiness!
Arena fills up slowly. Last seats are occupied only at the end of the first quarter. In the meantime, warm-up begins. NBA superstars so close that you could almost touch them! TV presenters are gearing up for the cameras, colorful lights flashes throughout the arena, performers entertain the fans fired into the stands shirts.
30 minutes before the first whistle, the players come off the warm up and the court is taken by performers, dance groups and by random fans trying to make a shot to the basket from the halfway line. From the above description it may seem that this is one great show. And indeed it is, the shell of the event is extended to the limit.
10 minutes before the game follows the presentation of the teams. First, players of Atlanta Hawks running into the court while whole stadium is making hum. After a moment the lights go out. In one of the corners light up sparkles, under the roof of the hall fireworks explode and in the background sounds a track of rapper JAY-Z (co-owner of the club) and appears first five Nets players. The crowd cheers.
At 3 minutes before the start of the match the lights go out again. An American black artist (Joe?) sings the anthem of the United States. Everybody stand up and holding right hand on heart sing with him.
And they started! From the point of the basketball view game wasn’t significantly good. The final score was 91-83 for Brooklyn, which is well below the average of the league. Clearly, the NBA can do better. But as I don’t have a chance to see the best basketball league in the world every week, the whole spectacle made a great impression on me. I stared in the game from the first to the last second trying to live it and experience it as much as possible.
It was interesting to watch as well a local fans – Americans. Often I had an impression that the basketball itself is only addition to the whole show, food, cameras. During each break, the camera circled among the crowd and “catch” random people, showing them on the big screens. A lot of people have been doing a lot to find themselves on those screens. Once the old lady, in a tight shirt of home team danced to Bruno Mars, another woman took off the shirt tempting male part of the audience, on the other side a small group of young fans with painted bodies in colors of Nets was jumping and cheering, but all of that was nothing to the 70-year-old guy, which at the time when camera was directed on him sits astride on his wife and starts kissing her passionately … Well, in the end this is America, the show must go on.
Change of mind
As a lover of nature I always said that that how the New York wouldn’t be awesome, spectacular etc., I would never come here for vacations. Now, I changed my mind! Completely 180 degrees! You can come here for a week, and I guarantee that every day will be full of attractions. I have visited the Big Apple 3 times and I can come here another 3 and still won’t do everything I planned. One of the few destinations, of which, unquestionably will be more than 1 post :)