Thursday, June 21, 2007

Random Musings on the Big Apple

I just returned from a short vacation in New York City (the reason I hadn't posted in a few days). I was there primarily to visit a couple of good friends, but it was also my first real exposure to the Big Apple, so I had to take in some of the sights as well.

All I can really say is "wow". New York City is staggering in its scale. Everything is larger than life. It is the undisputed epicentre of mass commercialism and unfettered capitalism in North America. And yet despite its continual assault on the senses, New York exudes a certain atmosphere and charm that is impossible to ignore. Some random thoughts on the big city:

1. NYC has done a tremendous job preserving its classic architecture. Wonderful buildings from the 19th century and from the early 20th century can still be seen throughout Manhattan. In fact, many of these structures put modern steel & glass skyscrapers to shame with their intricate designs and attention to detail. This type of preservation of the past has largely been lost in major Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver, and its really a shame.

2. Times Square, like New York itself, has undergone a transformation over the years. Gone are the peep-shows and XXX theatres. Unfortunately, they have been replaced by garish neon and LCD screen towers advertising everything from Burger King to the Disney Corporation. Less seedy, but strangely no more attractive than before.

3. We took a 3 hour cruise around the island of Manhattan. Our tour guide was a self-proclaimed "born and bred New Yorker". He strolled around the deck of the ship, microphone in hand, and in that quintessential New York accent pointed out the various sights. He also felt the need to add in his own brand of social commentary. Himself a veteran, he was clearly proud of the war effort in Iraq, informing us that New Yorkers had "shed their share of blood" for their country, and beaming that Britons were standing "shoulder to shoulder" with them in this epic struggle. Later he became irate when describing the the underfunding of VA hospitals, shouting angrily into the mic, "You don't have the money?? Well you FIND the money, Goddammit!!". I found it curious that although he was acutely aware of the horrible human toll of war, he wasn't actually against the war in Iraq; he merely wanted more funding for better prosthetic limbs and such. Odd, that.

4. JFK is a nightmarishly busy airport, staffed by rude and generally unhelpful people. Avoid it at all costs.

5. NYC on the other hand, defied expectations. I found the people outgoing and quite friendly. Strangers are quick to engage you in conversation, and not shy with their opinions. The city was cleaner than I had expected, and I never felt threatened or unsafe. NYC has clearly worked hard to rid itself of its deservedly poor reputation of the 1970's and 1980's. For the most part, it has succeeded. It stands today as an engaging and entertaining city, and I can recommend it to anyone looking for an urban getaway.

p.s. Thanks to my good friends Stephen and Zahra for their gracious hospitality!


Freddie Sirmans said...

Just browsing the internet, you have a beautiful and very interesting blog.

Red Canuck said...

Freddie - Thank you kindly. I'm certainly not the biggest or most widely read blogger out there, but I do enjoy it. I appreciate you stopping by!


knb said...

freddie is getting around today, in a good way :).

I love NYC too. I haven't been back since 9/11, but even then, it was clean the people were great and the restaurants fantastic.

There were still homeless on the streets and in the subway, but they usually just said nice things like freddie here.

The lack of respect for architecture in TO really ticks me off. So much could have been preserved and it's been poorly managed. That even goes to neighbourhoods in the burbs. Every bungalow, interesting ones from the 60's and 70's, is being torn down for a cookie cutter monster home. I hate that.

Did you spend any time in the park?

Red Canuck said...

knb - I did see the park, but didn't get to explore as much I would have liked.

It's really amazing how much character those historic buildings add. The new skyscrapers are impressive in their height, but otherwise all pretty much look the same. I loved the little details in the Chrysler bldg - the inlaid marble and brass work, the carved elevator doors, the gargoyles etc. And walking down Wall St. was like a little stroll into the 1920's. It was fascinating.

I hope to return sometime soon to see some more of the area.

knb said...

RC, check out Garth's blog. He's speaking to another building on the chopping block.

I'm not sure why we do this?

You mentioned elevators, aren't they fascinating in NYC? Love it. There are some buildings in Montreal that have preserved the same.

We're bad at this though aren't we. If there are kudo's to be had for the Bloq, it's that. History is important to them, as is it's preservation.

Red Canuck said...

knb - thanks for the info re: Garth's blog. This story had escaped my attention. It's disgusting really. Mike Harris all over again. And once again, the vaunted CPC "transparency" nowhere to be seen.

To whom are these beautiful buildings being sold? No one knows.
For how much? No one knows.
Under what conditions? No one knows.

Hopefully the parliamentary committee can put a hold on this firesale until we get some answers...but I'm not holding my breath.