21 June 2016

Part Two of Our Trip to New York, New York the City So Nice they Named it Twice

View from Ellis Island.
Someday in the future I’ll be traversing the Sahara Desert and will encounter a former student who has just finished at MIT. Last Thursday I was walking through Manhattan and I came across Sofia who was a middle school student of mine eight years ago. She just graduated from Harvard. In 2009 while strolling through a park in Paris I was hailed by Maura, a student from a few years prior who had matriculated at some place called Yale. It actually is a small world. Ask any astronomer.

Prior to the surprise encounter, the missus, oldest daughter and I had journeyed to Ellis Island where millions of immigrants were processed for admission to the US or were detained for further examination or sent back home between 1892 and 1954. There are scenes in Godfather Part 2 of Vito Corleone as a boy going through Ellis Island in the early 20th century. I always thought they were some of the best moments in cinema, in part because they are so realistic. Now having been to the island I’m even more impressed with their believability.

Also on the island with us were assorted school groups, most of them of the middle school variety. I taught the little buggers for 20 years so I know what they’re like and know that they were bored to tears when their well intentioned teachers sat them down and lectured about the island’s history. The road to boredom is paved with good intentions. I watched for awhile as a couple dozen students were being talked at, maybe seven or eight of the adolescents were paying any attention. (An adult chaperone couldn't stop yawning.) What I learned about field trips from years in the biz is that you do all your yakking in advance and once at the place to be visited you turn your charges loose with assignments to do. Shepherding young people around and trying to cram facts into their brains is a losing proposition.

The most striking part of the trip -- besides the spectacular views toward the city -- was the great hall which saw so many hopeful immigrants, doubtless feeling mixtures of excitement, fear and homesickness.

Wisely we had arrived at the island early so the hordes were just pouring in as we left. I can’t  — or don’t want to — imagine the place on a weekday afternoon in July. Talk about teeming huddled masses. The US is the most schizophrenic country in the world when it comes to immigration. Please come, please go back. Welcome. Get out. Thanks for helping. You bums!

Our boat swung by the Statue of Liberty, so of course I snapped a stream of photos. It’s a little odd to see something so iconic up close for the first time. There’s that combination of "wow there it actually is" and "so is that all there is to it?" Lady Liberty was not the kind of thing that fills me with awe. Things of great beauty do that like Lake Tahoe and my wife and certain works of art.

Brooklyn Bridge
After strolling around Manhattan and looking for more people from my previous life, the missus and I parted company with oldest daughter and went to Little Italy. (I will refrain from any Mafia jokes or references.) While this section of New York has an abundance of tourist trappings, it also has its charms and, as we discovered first hand, good restaurants. I had a filet of sole with pasta that was so succulent my mouth waters just writing about it.

I continued to marvel at New York’s subways. Everyone who ever lived can be seen on a subway car. If you ride long enough you’ll see a neanderthal a cro-magnon and their lower form, the republican congressman. We saw the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the weird, the really weird and the oh-my-god-you've-got-to-be-kidding. There are also one helluva lot of nondescript people minding their own beeswax. Some poor souls go from car to car asking for money and a few even seem to have pretty compelling stories. It’s a sad state of affairs that this country has so many homeless and so many guns and so many idiots. Don’t get me started.

Friday we went to the Brooklyn side of the eponymous bridge. What a sight! Here was something that was actually more beautiful than I imagined. Both the bridge and the view. There was also a photo shoot going on with a model whose beauty further enhanced the scene. Prior to the bridge we ate at one of New York’s many renowned pizzerias. This one is celebrated for its unique oven, a kind no longer allowed. Yes, it was delicious. If you don't eat well in New York it can only be because you don't want to.

Later we went to Grand Central Station so that oldest daughter could record me saying: “it’s like Grand Central Station in here” and “what is this Grand Central Station?” Two things I’ve been saying all my life. Hundreds of commuters stopped and roared with laughter at my cleverness. I was suitably impressed by the station which I noted is grand and centrally located. Hence the name. From there we took a gander at the Empire State Building which I like because, like me, its old and beautiful. Well old.

Our last full day was spent largely in and around Central Park, a place I would frequent if a resident of New York. We thus also saw a lot of the swanky apartments that house the fabulously wealthy or those lucky enough to have bought places when they were reasonably priced in the 70s. The 1870s. The Guggenheim was nearby so we took in another great museum, this one featuring mostly modern art and I always surprise everyone, myself included, by liking modern art. Hey, I’m a classy guy. One more delicious dinner awaited, this one at a French restaurant spitting distance from our apartment. More fish for me the faithful pescatarian.

It was hot in New York but not sizzling, also New York knows how to air condition, something that the Bay Area fails at miserably, principally because -- until global warming screwed with the weather -- we rarely saw high temperatures.

It was a lovely trip highlighted by seeing youngest daughter so happy and successful in her new home. I could live in New York and am not sure why I never did. There’s still time. In many ways its like San Francisco only more so. There’s anything, everything and then some. I don’t think I’d care for the hotter more humid months even with the blessed  air conditioning, so who knows. If anyone has an apartment to give away near Central Park, contact me through this blog. Appreciate it.

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