Friday, May 18, 2012

New York, New York!

I sat next to Ana, from New Jersey, on the Lufthansa flight from Newark. I told her I’d just made my first visit to New York.  “Oh, New York is so overrated!” she declared.

Ana was on her way to tour Turkey with her fellow fabric arts students.  I asked how this visit would inform her studies. “Well, I’m a rising sophomore” she said, “we’re developing fabric technology --- GPS transmitters in shoes and jackets for people with Alzheimers.”

I quietly wondered who would remind those people to put on their shoes and jackets.

“And we’re going to look at wool, see it growing on the sheep and being made into cloth.”

At this point I considered telling her that I came from New Zealand, where we were familiar with the first part of that process, but it was already apparent that she had absolutely no curiosity about me or where I came from.
In that respect, she differed from many we met in New York, who were of course unsurprised to meet people from elsewhere, but very courteous and conversational.

We were privileged: this morning we sat on a lush lawn on Morningside Heights, won in battle from the British 240 years ago, and were treated to commencement speeches from the faculty of Columbia University and from Tara Sonenshine, newly-appointed  Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs in Hillary Clinton’s team.

We were there for Rupert’s son Tim’s graduation. We sat in a crowd of ferociously proud parents. The graduands’ hopeful futures were echoed in the blue sky, the blue Columbia academic gowns and the bright sunbeams warming us.  Ms Sonenshine used this metaphor to inspire thoughts of saving the world, one inspiration at a time, one conversation at a time.

A headline in the New York Times today: “Whites account for under half of births in U.S.  - Majority of minorities”.  This would accord with all the Spanish, Italian, Creole and other tongues we heard all around us, in every part of New York.  

We shopped, we watched the Yankees at their Stadium, we visited museums, met an old friend for coffee, went to amateur night at the Apollo in Harlem,  and got to know our short term host Kate, a Ukrainian Kiwi New Yorker whose campus apartment we sublet for a few nights.

Food of course was as always a priority: standout meals were Mexican ‘mole’ quesadilla at 2:30 am on the night we arrived, the 9 pork ribs Rupe had at “Dinosaurs” next to the Cotton Club on the Hudson River shore, and the New York cheesecake at the diner where Obama had $1.99 breakfasts during his Columbia years, later renamed ‘Monks’ by Jerry Seinfield

We caught buses, trains, taxis and the Staten Island Ferry, with Manhattan sparkling behind our  Coastguard escort: and we decided that we had seen only part of all the many wonders of this city.

New York, overrated?  No, Ana, I don’t think so.   

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