March 10, 2006
Day 6: Cultural New York
My morning started before the rest of the group’s as I had an interview with Columbia University. Luckily for me, we had just taken a tour of the campus yesterday; so finding my way to my interview was a cinch. I went to Murray’s bagels on my way to the subway station. A hot fresh bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese spread with a quadruple Americano is perfect for a morning such as this one. I was surprised to find the subway as packed as it was at 9 a.m. I figured most people would have already arrived at work, but it was so packed I had to let an entire train pass by to wait for a less crowded one. Subway rides, especially long ones, are good for people watching. While most people listened to their iPods, there were several students discussing an article for class while another sat reading a biology book with a flustered look on her face. Most people keep to themselves and there is hardly ever eye contact made and everybody observes a one-foot sphere of personal space between each other at all times. At my stop, I got off and headed down a couple of blocks to Columbia. I was a little early so I just sat on the steps to the Butler Library and just looked at the beautiful campus.
Students were bustling to and fro and I couldn’t help but think about the surrounding city and how it would be so easy to get lost in NYC and how ghastly different that is from Crawfordsville and the campus.
My interview went well, and I was accepted into the Stage Management program. I then met up with the rest of the group at the Metropolitan Art Museum. I am a big fan of Art and try to make time to go to the local museum whenever I am in a big city. I spent most of my time in the Sculpture Pavilions and Modern Art sections. The collection there is absolutely astounding and it would take the better part of a day to fully take in the whole museum. Personally I would take at least two days in order to fully process and adequately take it all in. Luckily there was a special exhibit on Robert Rauschenberg. It had all of his famous works along with a number of others. I have only seen these works in textbooks and slides and they are pretty powerful then, but to get to experience. To walk around Monogram and The Bed was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had with Art. It is just so amazing to be in a city with such a rich cultural life. Even from the outside of the Met you know it is going to be pretty powerful because the museum is a colossal building. I hope to make it back someday to fully experience it as I only really saw about a fourth of the collection.
I awoke today freezing in the hostel, as sometime during the night, the proprietors decided to turn off the heat. A quick jaunt down to Murray’s Bagels with Wes Jacks filled me up for a long day of museums. Murray’s has quickly become one of my favorite breakfast destinations for a filling morning meal. We met the group at 9:30 for the trip to the Empire State Building. We walked quite a few blocks from the hostel, and despite the tiredness from the previous day, I still prefer walking above ground to the subway. It’s just a little better when you can hear the sounds of the city and see new and interesting people walking by rather than a quick push uptown in a noisy train.
The Empire State Building was quite the experience. The elevator shot us up in about a minute, landing us on the cold, windswept observation deck. My original view of the New York City skyline from the plane was the only thing that could compare to the view we had from the observation deck.
It was very cold, but I braved the elements to get a good view of the UN building, the Chrysler Building and virtually all of Manhattan. The various facts about the tower were rather interesting including the amount of Indiana limestone in the building (200,000 cubic feet!), but one of the most powerful experiences was the view of the skyline without the WTC towers. A diagram showed us how dominant in the city’s skyline.
After the Empire State Building, the group traveled up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The college gracefully paid the price of admission, and we were let loose in the museum. I immediately traveled to the 19th Century European painting section, a very dangerous place for me, as I spent the better part of two hours exploring the Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Monet, and many others. After that and a jaunt through the modern art section, I had spent about three hours exploring a very small portion of the Met.
Afterwards, a few of us traveled across the park to the Museum of Natural History. We’re off to dinner, so I’ll end by saying this museum was pretty cool. The dinosaurs brought out the inner child in me once again.
March 09, 2006
Day 5: Uptown and Down
I will remember today for the rest of my life. We started the day off by traveling to Central Park where we saw some breathtaking views of the city. We stood out in front of the Dakota Apartments where John Lennon was shot and killed, then walked across the street into the park to see Strawberry Fields and his memorial.
Walking through the park was a really cool experience in the sense that we got to see the somewhat quieter, more relaxed side of New York City. After walking some trails in Central Park we toured Columbia University and learned several things about Kerouac, Ginsberg and some other famous alumni from our own Professor Abbott. Next and finally for the day’s sights, we rode the subway down to lower Manhattan to see the World Trade Center sight. It was amazing, breathtaking, and unbelievable; basically no adjective can fully describe that feeling. Of course everyone has their own feelings of the attack on 9/11 without even seeing the sight. We walked in and around the World Financial Center and looked out on an incredible view of the World Trade Center sight. Speaking on behalf of the class and faculty members that were present, we were absolutely speechless. After seeing this view we then walked out and looked out at the water. Not many things were said, we were silent and still in awe of what we had just witnessed. They day moved from laughter, fun and lots of walking to us sitting there silent, thinking, and imagining what it would have been like to actually see the planes fly into our buildings. It has taken us all awhile to loosen up since that scene. A large group of us are now getting ready to go see an opera at the Metropolitan Opera House. It seems like a very fitting ending to this day. Hope all is well with everyone across the states.
The images I see are not real. They cannot be. I see an empty pit of concrete and broken steal. I see the flags flying atop many buildings across the way. I stood upon the steps of heaven when I was at Ground Zero. Despite all the television, history specials, 24 hour news coverage, I cannot express in human words what it was like to see where the once great buildings of the World Trade Center existed. When I first began to write this blog, I tried to compare it with what I felt that early morning in september. I felt sadness, anger, hatred, dismay, and shock among a slew of other feelings. I remember being in art class when I saw the towers fall to the ground; I nearly fainted at the sight. It was as if all the cries of those that perished rang in my head. I stand here at Ground Zero in a sense of nihilism. What else am I supposed to feel? At least a first, I feel nothing, but as I gaze across the empty plain in a concrete mountain, I feel a kind of awareness. It is difficult to explain; is it an awareness of humanity? My relationships with others? In deep thought I realize a contrast that I did not notice in our travels around the city. It is quiet around Ground Zero. Whether it was of my own invention or if it was real (surely I remember hearing construction off in the distance). It felt that the city was still morning its loss.
At the same time, I noticed a world of change. I became more aware of the construction surrounding me. This area is going through a rebirth as it begins to rebuild. Despite all that the terrorists attempted that morning, we have overcome. We are in the process of building a memorial, office complexes-an entire community upon the site of this now sacred space. Some may call it moving on...but I would call it moving beyond. We always remember the past. Indeed, we obsess about the past. Why? Perhaps because we want to know where we have come from to create our own identity. When historical and significant events occur, it remolds the identity of our lives. 9/11 certain changed the way our lives work. Just as we look into the past for a connection, so too must we about our future. Each moment is connected to each other in ways human being can only barely fathom. The past, present and future connect to each other in a sort of spider's web.
I realize that 9/11 will be remembered forever. It defined our own generation-its our "where were you when..." moments. In the same way, human beings are connected to each other. Ground Zero used to give me, and still does, sense of sadness, and anger but now...now it gives me hope. A Hope that humanity will finally realize that we each impact each others lives. Think Chaos Theory meets philosophy. Beyond our mortal lives exists a wonder that mankind has searched for since the dawn of time. No matter what events lay in store for our future, humanity will continue, and all the more wiser.
March 08, 2006
Day 4: Harlem and Broadway
The other night Julio and I met up with two fraternity brothers that graduated when I was a freshman (and Julio was still kicking it high school style) and who work in the area. Ryan Smith is currently employed by CBS at 48 Hours and Bogdan Ianev works as an actuary at Prudential across the river in Newark. We went out to the meat packing district to what Smith said was a good Thai place he knew. Though Professor Rosenberg told us that not long ago this was not a particularly attractive area for young people to hang out in, it has recently become quite the trendy areas for older, successful fraternity brothers to take their naive undergraduate visiting brothers. It was interesting to see how both of these men have changed in the last three years. Both have become much more suited for this city than they were when I knew them in our year of overlap in Crawfordsville. Both remained genuinely interested in even the small details pertaining to Wabash, and particularly to Lambda Chi Alpha. Both men acknowledged that they realize that they are now more aggressive and slightly more calloused by the masses than others, and recognize now the ambivalence that can result from being lonely in a city of such masses.
After dinner Julio and I began to walk uptown on 7th Avenue, past Times Square. Eventually we ended up at a two story McDonalds next to the Virgin Records megastore in the midst of humanity's largest shrine to capitalism, built upon the sturdy foundation of impulse purchases and tourists' insatiable desire to purchase any "official" New York City memorabilia. While sitting behind the neon accented golden arches outside the second floor window we were approached by a twenty something homeless person. Normally the proper response to this is simply to ignore the approaching party, but for two reasons I chose not to. First, my final project is going to have to deal with the homeless and street performers of the city, and so meeting some of them is profitable. Second, I am so broke that it wouldn’t matter if he shook me down for money, in fact, my only hope is that if I ever get mugged the thief will stay close enough for me to see the look on his face when he sees the prize for his endeavor. The young man engaged in some arm chair philosophy and did some freestyling, which may or may not have been good, we’ll never know because it was freestyle mumbling with mediocre hand gesticulations. He attempted to sell us a copy of a paper and generally seemed to be a pretty good guy. He ventured back by our table a few times, I gave him the only 15 cents that I had, so he clearly did not want the money, perhaps we were simply the only table that hadn’t taken the prudent approach and ignored him.
I’ll admit, I’ve gotten a lot better things for the combination of a dime and a nickel in my life, but I was still genuinely intrigued by this young man. I at first assumed that if the management found him harassing customers for money they would remove him from the premises, but at one point I saw the manager walk by and give an understated fist pound to our local McRapper. It called into question whether he was quite the loose cannon he pretended to be, or whether he was nothing more than another employee of this McDonalds, working as an independent contractor, playing a particular character, letting tourists feel like they’ve changed a life, and yielding a monetary gain for his service.
Today in the subway I met two interesting people. The first was a woman from Mobile Alabama who is working at a bank in the city. She was nice and helpful in telling us what train to get on, but seemed genuinely surprised and pleased to have someone talk to her. Her lack of annoyance made me ask where she was from, and she said an interesting thing. When asked if she was from New York, she replied simply that “no one is actually from New York City.” Just like my fraternity brothers, she loves her time in the city during her 20’s, but does not believe she will want to stay forever. Likely she will move back to Alabama within a decade.
I met a second woman on the train and made faces at her incredibly cute toddler niece. She smiled and waved back, leading me to believe that New Yorkers are not born, but rather made. I told her aunt that she was probably the friendliest face I had seen in the city, leading her aunt to demonstrate the blushing that would have ensued had she managed to hear my compliment.
New York has been a very new experience for me overall. I have very much enjoyed the city, but ultimately I am surprised to admit that I miss Crawfordsville, at least certain aspects of it. I can find more unbelievably good, painfully spicy Thai food on one block here than I could find in all of Montgomery and Tippecanoe counties. All the same, I miss the simple pleasure of striking up a conversation with a stranger at a basketball game, never knowing where it might go. In this city new friends are not made easily. One will not likely ask for directions on the subway and make a new lifelong friend, in fact, one will probably not get any response at all from others. It begins to make me wonder if having all the wonders of such an enormous city is worth it without someone to share it with. My brothers here confirmed this, particularly Ryan Smith who has come to love living in the city now that he has made friends to share it with, when he previously had hated it. I myself constantly find myself thinking how great so many things are, realizing how much better yet things might be if I could share them with my closest people. Then I realize why Ryan might have meant by feeling lonely in a crowded city.
Now, obviously, New Yorkers have friends, and clearly Crawfordsville is not without any options for cultural experience, but it has made me consider the tension between these two aspects of the human experience and my own preferences on the matter. I have found myself surprised and impressed in new and different ways by the way that New York City has defied my assumptions about it, proving to be bigger and more complex than I had assumed it would be.
We started off our day today by jumping on the subway to Harlem. Before our arrival at Harlem, lunch awaited us at Sylvia's soul food restaurant. After a tasty meal at Sylvia's we had about one hour of free time before our tour began.
We decided to walk around Harlem and quickly realized the rich presence of African-American culture. Unfortunately, while waiting for our tour guide outside the Schaumburg Institute of Black Studies, a†group of middle or high school students walking by said to us "I like to see a group of white people". I quickly realized that some of the Harlem residents were not to happy with us visiting their community, while others were not bothered by our presence. Right after the Harlem tour Travis, Tony, and I decided to go to Spanish Harlem.
Travis, Tony, I got on the subway and headed to Spanish Harlem. On our way we decided to take a short cut through Central Park which ended up being a bad idea because it only resulted in us getting lost. After back tracking a few blocks to get back on the right track we made it to Spanish Harlem. Once there we saw all around us Spanish Markets, restaurants and street vendors . By this time, we were all a little hungry and decided to have dinner at La Fonda Borricua a Puerto Rican restaurant. For the three of us this was the first time eating Puerto Rican food. Once we got our food I realized that Puerto Rican and Mexican food are very similar although the names of the dishes can be different some of the cuisine styles are similar.
Later that night we got to experience our first Broadway show, Avenue Q, in Times Square. Before the show, we had the opportunity to walk around Times Square and experience capitalism at its "best."
The brightness of millions of lights and signs wanting us to buy various things overwhelmed our senses. While searching for our purpose of the night we finally arrived at The John Golden Theatre. Once in the theater, we were packed into our seats like sardines in gum wrapper. Not many of us knew what to expect from this show but once it began, we were taken aback. Once the show began, I thought it was "siesta" time and realized I was wrong because the puppets and the comedic satire that depicts New York kept me laughing the whole show. The overall theme of the show at first seemed to be to find purpose in life but I later realized it was to live "now" and not to worry too much. The end of the show left us with a good first impression of Broadway.
Day 3: Native New Yorkers
New York has proved to be an amazing place. So far I have been blown away by the diversity of the city. You hear and read about it, but really each neighborhood is completely different from the others and the make up of all these various areas is unique.
One of the things I was most looking forward to when coming to New York was eating. On Monday we interviewed a native New Yorker about her feelings on the city and her perspective from a lifetime spent in New York.
Afterwards, four of us headed down 8th Avenue looking for a place to eat. We happened across Azucar Restaurant, a Cuban eatery in between an Italian restaurant and a diner. The food was amazing. We all ordered different meals and each one of us said that it was the best food so far on the trip. To date, we have eaten at a BBQ, a diner, a pizzeria, a Cuban restaurant, the infamous bagel shop, and a Vietnamese restaurant. This is like a dream come true for anyone that loves food.
I’ll wrap up by noting something else from the day. We had the privilege of interviewing a native New Yorker and editors from both GQ and Entertainment Weekly magazines.
In these interviews a question came up that we actually talked about earlier in our Cuban feast. Who controls who in New York? A picture cannot explain the sensory overload experienced when walking in Times Square. There are advertisements all over the place, so much so that I am sure any one individual ad has no effect on a consumer at all. The magazines also help in promoting this.
Looking through the latest issue of GQ proves this. This brings me to the observation of who is in control, the consumer or the “ad wizard”? Do the magazines reflect the consumers’ feelings on a particular movie, fashion, or award, or do the structure the consumers’ feelings on these issues? Who decides what is young and hip and is that in line with what people really think? Better yet, do people even question this? When walking in midtown New York it really hit me that this city revolves around itself but in that controls what everyone else thinks about much of pop culture and the world today. I guess it is always a good topic of conversation over a great meal.
During the day the city is very busy, people loading up on the buses and trains to get to one side of the city to another. As you walk down the street there are street vendors trying to sell you everything from hot dogs and pretzels to purses and “Rolex’s.” At night however, the city transforms into another kind a busy. People are no longer rushing to get
to work or from one shop to another, rather they are loading up on trains to go to different clubs and restaurants. The city’s bright lights illuminate the sky; there are so many options we have no idea where to start. On Sunday night a group of us decided to wander around and explore the city nightlife. As many great journeys begin we started out by wandering around with no particular destination in mind. After a long walk and a short train ride we ended up in Times Square. We continued our way north and saw the bright lights of BB King’s Jazz Club.
It did not take long for us to agree that we wanted to listen to some good live music in the big city. When we walked in the club was dead, the band was on a set break and the crowd was thin, even for a Sunday night. When the band finally started playing again he asked us where we were from (no matter how hard we try to fit into the “New York” mentality, we cannot help but look like a bunch of kids from the Midwest). As soon as we said that we were from Indiana the table across the dance floor shouted “We’re from Texas!” We look over and see a group of women from Houston who were living it up in their week in NYC. Not being one to shy away from the company of beautiful women I went up and introduced myself. To my surprise they were much older than I thought, but were still extremely friendly. After an hour of talking up their daughters to me and taking me out on the dance floor it was time to say goodbye. Needless to say my first New York City experience was one I will remember forever…and if you’re reading this Diane, call me.
March 06, 2006
Day 2: Immigrant New York
In theory, a mandatory midnight curfew makes for an easy early morning. The reality of alarm clocks at seven in the morning, however, quickly dispelled such a notion. Rick, Josh, and I headed to Murray's down the street for bagels and coffee prior to our 8 o'clock class meeting. After an hour or so of navigating the quiet Sunday sidewalks and subways, we found ourselves on a ferry headed towards Ellis Island, where brisk March winds quickly erased whatever traces of warmth remained from my morning cappuccino. The view from the deck, however, was well worth the discomfort; a clear blue sky afforded an amazing view of both the city skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
Few sites in the U.S. are as important symbolically as 'Lady Liberty', and seeing the monument for the first time inspired a lengthy moment of reflection. Homberger's New York City: A Cultural and Literary Companion--one of the books we read in preparation for the trip--provided an historical account of this gift from France, but seeing it in person, not to mention on a boat like millions of immigrants before me, produced an altogether different reaction. We gained a little more insight into the immigrant experience at the Ellis Island Museum, which has several ship manifests, travel tickets, posters, and other documents on display. Much of the building has been restored and cleaned, however, stripping away a great deal of its character and relegating the murmurings of those before us to gimmicky audio recordings.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum provided a much closer look at early NYC life. Our guide Peter, a former Vietnamese refugee, mixed an account of his own experiences with the stories of the former inhabitants of the building. Although they came to the city more than half a century apart, their stories surprisingly shared many of the same struggles and other similarities. While life was hard for both generations of these immigrants, the experience of growing up in New York clearly provided a sense of community that is lacking in an increasingly gentrified city. These experiences, combined with our lunch at Katz's deli, have contributed greatly to me feel for NYC, which is increasing every hour I spend here.
Today we had a chance to see what immigrant life was like in New York. This morning we rode the subway downtown, jumped on a bus and rode down to Battery Park. While we were in line for the security checks, we were serenaded by a man with a guitar and a clown wig. His comical lyrics took the edge off of the bitter cold morning. After going through security worthy of an airport, we rode a boat out to Liberty Island to see The Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island to the to see what immigration to the city used to be like. The building has been vacant for a number of years, until recently when part of it was restored into an immigration museum. When people came to New York from Europe, the had to go through health exams before leaving Europe, and also when the arrived in the city. If they did not pass the exams they were forced to return to their home lands.
After returning to land, we walked through lower Manhattan with a quick tour of Wall Street. We made our way across town to Katz Deli where we ate lunch. This was a very unique meal for me, because of the atmosphere. It seemed to me like everyone was in a hurry to get their food, as if they were starving to death. The food was great, but the people in there made it hard to enjoy. I prefer not to fight through a crowd to eat.
Our tour through the Lower East Side exposed us to a variety of cultures. The streets were lined with signs in many different languages, mostly Chinese. Many different smells coming from the numerous restaurants filled the air. Even the graffiti was in different languages. While in the Lower East Side we took tours of the Tenement Museum. Half of us went on the tour of the tenements during the depression, and half of us went on the tour of the tenements of the garment making industry. I was on the garment tour, in which we saw what the buildings interior originally looked like as well as what it looked at after it was restored. The rooms were small and unhealthy to live in. These families not only lived there, but also made a living of making clothes. There was little or no heat in the winters, and the summers were extremely hot. When it came time to sleep, they pushed all of their work supplies aside and slept on whatever furniture they had. These conditions were very depressing and undesirable.
In a way, we were immigrants today. None of us have been here before, so we are very unfamiliar with the city. One of the first sights we saw today was the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, just as most immigrants first saw these same places. We are encountering numerous different cultures in one area. And just as the immigrants lived in small apartments, our hostel rooms are not exactly spacious, but we will find a way to survive.
Day 1: New York City - Arrival
To begin, I was the idiot who overslept. Once this little travesty was overcome, we found ourselves on the way to Indy. From here on out it was relatively uneventful, until flying into New York. The view of Manhattan was curious, as it was something very familiar: Darkwing Duck, Gotham City, et cetera. Our media is saturated with images of this island’s tip. The Statue of Liberty was somewhat less than imposing, as it is often depicted being; instead, it was small and almost diminutive from our point of view (granted, we were flying over it).
From here, we checked into the hostel relatively quickly, encountered how driving must be to some extent in Manhattan, and then were on our way to Greenwich Village. Much like Berlin and London, my eyes were immediately attracted to the rainbow flags littering the area through Chelsea on into the Village. Was curious to encounter this history and even come across the Stonewall Park, which commemorated the riots (which they termed protests) that took place on Christopher St. almost forty-seven years ago. There were other sites which my neighborhood group had discussed, such as the Washington Square Monument, the house upon which Henry James based his novel, and other such curiosities.
I am tired. It is easy to forget how incredibly much a person can fit into 24 hours if possibly motivated and equipped. Usually, students are reminded of this fact in the middle of finals week, not on the first day of their stereotypically “relaxing” spring break., but this motley crew of 16 English majors and minors were really and truly busy today.
After our 5 am call to the chapel steps, flight, landing, check-in, and walk down to Greenwich, we finally got a chance to fill our stomachs at our choice of two restaurants. One served basic American fare of burgers and such, while the other, brilliantly named Caliente, was a Mexican joint. The luckier of the group members wandered into Caliente and found themselves with a menu sporting six of the most welcome words a cold, wind-whipped Wabash student can read: “Unlimited Screwdrivers with any Lunch Entree.” Things just kept looking up.
Lunch finished around 1:45 pm and a considerably warmer, more cheerful group walked out of the two restaurants for the walk back up to our hostel in Chelsea. Upon our arrival, we were given our first few free hours in the city and told to report back as a group at 5 pm. Smaller groups quickly formed and students took off in every different direction. Denis, Donald Claxon, Sterling Carter, and I headed off for The Strand, a famous, and giant, used bookstore where I spent an hour perusing used film biographies, screenplays, anthologies, and textbooks. Other groups took off to Madison Square Gardens, Times Square, and the like.
At 5 pm we reconvened and headed for our first group trip to the subway that would take us back down into the Village. One student tried to get himself stuck on the wrong side of the entrance gates but managed to squeeze himself into a turnstile along with one of his classmates. Once we got back to Greenwich, the hungry group ambled into the infamous John’s Pizzeria. As we walked in the door we saw they had set up tables end-to-end through the center of the restaurant to accommodate our 18-member party. Literally seated at the center of the restaurant, we all sat down and ate. And we ate well… very well. John’s Pizzeria isn’t famous for its name; they make great pizza. The six of us sitting at my table finished off three large, delicious pizza pies. At the end of the meal, Professor Rosenberg informed the group that it was Professor Abbott’s birthday, and soon 17 Wabash students filled the restaurant with a particularly grumbly, heartfelt but decidedly non-melodic rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
As we left the restaurant for our next stop, The Angelika, we passed more than 10 people standing in the cold out in front of the restaurant waiting to take our places in John’s. After some confusion with the actual time and the film start times (entirely my fault), we reached the movie theater called The Angelika with an hour to spare. In order to pass the time, a few of us managed to wander our way into a Haagen-Daaz. Again, we split into smaller groups and chose our own filmic paths for the next several hours. Five of us chose The Squid and the Whale, which was an appropriate pick since it was set in NYC in the 1980s. After the film, we started walking back towards our hostel and managed to fall into our final eatery of the day, a combo cafe/pastry-shop. I finished the night drinking a chai latte, eating half a piece of cheesecake, and discussing films. A wonderful ending to a very full day. Tomorrow, it starts all over again at 8 am.