Shenandoah Park was a treat not just because I got to see a beautiful park and its colours at the start of autumn. It was a treat because I got to spend a day in the company of a dear friend, who has been living in the States for more than a decade. She and I spent the morning driving from Manassas to the park, chatting and listening to music on the way, stopping at drive-through shops and ordering late breakfast treats.
At Shenandoah Park, we decided on the trek to follow and set on it. It was difficult to keep walking and looking straight ahead when all the trees around were displaying and adorning autumn colours. It was like a symphony of colours everywhere, playing on different tones from tree to tree.
At some point on our trek, we stopped for a sandwich at the foot of several giant trees. I told my friend that I was hoping Heaven would be like a long-stretching beach with a villa full of the world’s best books, endless white curtains floating in the gentle breeze. It would only be me and the Great Lion walking down the beach from dusk till dawn, I said to her.
I am very happy she consented.
I forget about everything and everyone when I travel. Maybe that is why I would like this to be a permanent job. Always in transit. Always escaping. Always seeing something new.
My only commitment would be to always being free. My soul is that of a gipsy. That is half a blessing, half a curse, for there is always something new to do; what is in the moment is less important than what comes.
The New York Public Library is one of those emblematic New York buildings, right there on the map of the great buildings that make the city memorable, alongside the Empire State, the Chrysler, Grand Central Station and the Waldorf Astoria.
Built in the 19th century with support from the Lenox, the Astor and other wealthy families of the time, the New York Public Library feels like a gift to the city. It is a welcoming building, with a welcoming entrance and an even more welcoming and grander lobby.
Walking up the stairs from the ground to the first floor, taking in the marble stairs and the chandeliers, it feels like you are walking through a place that needs to be respected and admired.
The Grand Reading Room, its painted ceiling and thousands of books make you feel like you’re in some part of heaven. The part where they keep all the intel on everyone. I expected a very wise man to come to me dressed in a luminous robe, take me on a journey, talk to me about life and share with me the secrets of the sage.
To get to Alice Austen’s House, you need to take the ferry from Downtown Manhattan into Staten Island. I did just that one Saturday afternoon at the start of January keen to make sure I ticked the location off the list of the 111 places I should not have missed in New York.
Staying true to my passion for walking, I decided to walk to her house from the Staten Island Ferry Station, although some passers-by advised me to take the bus. I did wish I had taken the bus, as I noticed that the road I was walking down veered in the direction of a back street full of warehouses that did not necessary show a trace of a human foot.
As I was walking down the street, I was hoping and praying that it would lead to the destination I was hoping for. And that I would not end up on the front cover of a newspaper the following day. Quite literally, this was one of the two occasions when I felt like slapping myself for not being more careful with my whereabouts especially when I am miles away from home. The other occasion was during a trip to Naples, when I ventured to see the certezza that sits at the top of the city and walked for half an hour up back streets that looked like they had featured in Cosa Nostra.
Alice Austen was one of the first photographers to document New York life and society at the end of the 19th century – early 20th. She left behind an impressive collection of over 9,000 photos. Some of them are on display in her house, which has been converted into a museum.
I was ecstatic to find the place eventually and reach it safely. Looking around, my favourite photos were those of the Staten Island Hospital, photographed in the early 1900s. I also liked a photo illustrative of a medical check that an immigrant to the US went through at that time at Ellis Island.
Another thing I enjoyed about Alice’s house was the furniture. The parlour was specifically interesting, as it displayed various pieces of furniture faithfully recreating the mood of the past. The dark room, where she spent a lot of hours working on her photos, is a real window through time.
There are many things in a city that tell a story. Old buildings tell a story, old streets tell a story, museums and art galleries tell another story, the official and the polished one.
The back alleys, the derelict buildings, the gardens whose fences have been broken and never fixed, the cars that have been abandoned on the side of the street, the graffiti – they tell another story. It is the behind-the-scenes story of people that do not make it to the front cover, families that are broken, artists that go against the mainstream and try to leave their mark in their own way, and inconvenient truths that challenge accepted wisdom.
Whoever you are, wherever you are and you are from, wherever you happen to travel, you will always stop in front of a graffiti to interpret its meaning. Its obvious meaning, its symbolic meaning, its hidden meaning. I know I do. 🙂
It happened to me as I was cruising South Williamsburg to find a wall inked with this interesting and eye-grabbing graffiti on tobacco. It was a metaphor on how tobacco can smoke your life away from cradle to grave. The tables had turned and people were no longer in control of their lives; tobacco was in control of theirs. You’re born, you smoke; you grow up, you smoke, you get old, you smoke. You die and you smoke your way out of the world like, so many others almost as if you were on a production line. Cigarettes have put a nail in your coffin and there are a lot of coffins. As the French would say, il y en a beaucoup.
I love Bryant Park.
A jewel of a place.
With me since the first time I visited New York, took the 7 into Manhattan, got out at 42 Street, lifted my eyes and saw the skyscrapers opposite the train station; then turned left and saw the sea of trees and the park.
With me when I went back to New York last year, got up one morning, got a cup of coffee and walked to Bryant Park, sat on a bench and enjoyed it ahead of 10am when everyone was going into work.
With me last winter, when I was walking up and down Manhattan, stopping at the Bryant Park winter fair, admiring the skating rink, trying out the Facebook VR booth, and window-shopping at the different winter shops.
With me when Marnie and I went out for a walk one Friday afternoon, stood at the bar in Bryant Park and lunched in the New York cold. Actually, Marnie had a drink. LOL.
It will be there the next time I am in New York. Fresh and quiet, quietly quieting down the noise around it.
Museums are usually very large repositories of culture, geography, history and science. They dazzle through their size, their displays, their permanent and temporary installations. You typically need to plan for a whole day out when you visit a museum and take a break mid-visit for refreshment. It happens to me all the time when I go to the V&A.
The M Museum in Manhattan is probably the smallest museum in the world, built in an elevator shaft at the back of an alley close to 368 Broadway. You can glance over its displays in less than a minute and walk away. Despite its size, however, the museum tells an endless, never-ending story about humanity.
The M Museum is a repository of the different objects that make our everyday life. It changes “collections” and “installations” quite often, collects objects that relate to different moments in our life, to different walks of life and puts them on display. You look at these “collections”, very often made up of 20 to 30 items and understand that the simplest items we possess or have left behind can tell the most meaningful stories about who we are and where we are going. The day I visited the M Museum I got to see:
- A collection of objects designed for the blind and using the Braille alphabet to enable recognition
- A collection of objects that people crossing into the Arizona desert from Mexico had abandoned on their way to hopefully a better life
- A collection of text messages, the last to be sent by people to their loved ones before they passed away
- Trumping everything – a shelf-full of Trump-branded merchandise.
I found the place extremely profound. I realised how much of ourselves we actually transfer to everything we own.