Sunday, January 1, 2017

Last day of 2016 in South Manhatten: Greenwich Village, Grace Church, Union Square, 9-11 Memorial, Oculus, St. Paul's Chapel. City Hall, New Year's Eve

Times Square had 7000 police and was anticipating 2 million visitors. Laura and I did not want to get caught up in that.  We’d thought of watching the ball drop in Times Square but learned that people had to line up to get into the square in the afternoon.  It was cold and windy.  But worse once you were in the cordoned off places the police didn’t let you come back in if you left.  And here’s the rub: there were not toilet facilities.  I simply couldn’t imagine holding it for 7 or 8 hours and didn’t think Depends was the way I wanted to see 2017.  Maybe younger people can do that. There’s a new underwear for women that’s called THINX and lets them bleed so supposedly also poop and pee with the abandon DEPENDs promises. There were lots of advertisements on the Subways for THINX and I wondered if it was in anticipation for New Year Eve in Times Square.  But really, welcoming  in 2017 while actually in the shit and piss of 2016. .  Hugging and kissing and squishing. No thank you.
So we decided to watch the ball drop from our room.  It was in New York City. We were close enough.
That day we opted to visit the 9-11 memorial site after stopping in Greenwich Village for lunch.  There’s a number 6 subway station at 28th and Park, a block from our Redbury Hotel. Taking the downtown line, avoiding uptown at all costs, we got off at Paul Simon’s Bleecker Street.  We walked about in Greenwich Village, no longer the artist ghetto and place of cheap rents and poverty.  It’s yuppified.
We saw that flats were selling for a mere few millions, not so different from Vancouver real estate prices in Manhatten. The Bowery was once the most famous dead end for drunks and poverty in the world but today is a lovely street with pleasant restaurants, shops and upscale apartment complexes.  Hells Kitchen was once a most notorious place in the world described  by sociologists as having the highest density pedophiles, murderers, ex criminals, drug addicts.  It was famous for being so impoverished and criminal yet producing some of the most successful Americans, the highest achievers in the arts, law, medicine.  The Hell’s Kitchen studies put an end to the simplistic idea that the environment makes a person.  If this was the case no one could have succeeded from Hell’s Kitchen.
Yet New York is a constant reminder of massive migrations of people to it’s shores arriving in poverty and within a generation half of that ethnic group has risen and succeeded moving on either upward in the high rises or outwards to the burbs.  America , as  compared to the corruption in the rest of the world, has  over 50% of it’s millionaires self made within their own life time. America really is the land of opportunity.  The Irish arrived in poverty, followed by the Italians, then the Jews, and then the Russians and now the Puerto Ricans and all are upwardly mobile. So much depends upon the first generation families and their cohesion, desire for education and work ethic with the next generation educated and relatively successful as their own children hold the promise for the future.  The sacrifice of the first generation is now so apparent in the Asian families but was the formula for hundreds of years.  It’s no wondered Marx and Engels wanted to destroy the family in any way it could as family was the greatest threat to the powerful and entrenched state.
Before coming here I listened, going to and fro work ,to an online social history of New York which contrasted the continued success of New York with the urban failure of Detroit where both were competing neck and neck into the 60’s but Detroits social engineering plans failed abysmally creating ghettos and poverty which could not be explained by the loss of manufacturing because that had occurred in New York at the same time.  
Crime in Detroit has totally destroyed it’s capacity for tourism which is just one of the many new industries that New York has benefitted from. Laura and I really do feel safe in New York. This is a major change from when I was hear 30 years ago and accosted by a black gang while I was trying to hear some fine jazz in Harlem. Things could have gone south and I might not be here if I hadn’t the set of skills I have.  I got through and was the only white guy in a major Jazz club but in Detroit in the day I’d probably have died.  Tourism thrives on law  and order.  I don’t have any desire to go to Detroit because of all the violence, not gun violence, just violence.  I’d rather be shot that hacked to death with a machete.
But then I don’t go out much at night anymore.  I didnt’ feel particularly safe in Moscow with the groups of young men and I don’t feel safe in Vancouver at night with all the pot smoke and drinking..  Laura has commented on the lack of marijuana smell in the air.  We certainly don’t see the public drunkeness I remember in Mexico City.  The DTES in Vancouver is really a ghetto of note.  It’s significance is it’s situation in the centre of a wannabe world city. I remember the red light district of Barcelona off the beaten track. There will always been these outside areas in cities.  The issue is where will they be located, in the prime realestate or outside of where the rest of people do business and want safety.  Travelling around the world and studying the subject is a real lesson in the errors of urban planning and thinking in one’s own home town.
Seeing Greenwich and the Bowery as they are is reassuring. I remember watching the excavation for a Hilton in Istanbul where layers of history stretch back thousands of years. Building on a ghetto site the Hilton struck a major palace while digging the foundation. The archeologists are there now.
I loved Hemingway’s book the “Moveable Feast” with the parties he and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald got to in Paris.  The West Bank there was once what we think of as Greenwich or the DTES but today is an upscale tourist town. Artists hang out where the rent and food are cheap and where other young  artists congregate. This was Paris impoverished after WWI, the immigrant sections of Manhatten and today are probably in some parts of Warsaw.  The “Moveable Feast” gets around but it’s never in the upscale sections where the successful congregate. We heard Lady Gaga once frequented a coffeeshop near La Fayette street in her struggling artist's days.
I loved the Carole King story in the musical, Beautiful, as she arose in the immigrant Manhatten before heading to the California west coast.
We loved the Grace Church.  We entered  and sat in quiet prayer thinking of all those others this quiet place has given hope and inspiration to..
After that we found this delightful restaurant with great food and light environment, the Pret Mangers. It’s a chain which we’ve seen around New York and now love.   Sandwiches made that day and whatever is left over management gives to shelters that night.
Near our hotel we have this place called Bread and Butter which is also part of a chain but is an amazing place to eat coupled with a market.
We walked on to Union Square with it’s statue of Washington.  We then window shopped about and stopped in at Barnes & Noble the principle site of this famous book chain which we have and enjoy in Canada.
As I had got lost and headed us a half dozen blocks out of our way I caught a taxi which took us to the 9-11 Memorial site and new World Trade Centre. It really did have that hallowed ground feel with 2000 souls having died so recently there. It’s the feeling I get walking over the fields where major wars have taken place and thousands have died in a day. . The Plains of Abraham gave me that feeling. All the terror and violence seem apart of the air in these places and my stomach becomes unsettled. Laura said she felt the same. Standing by the pools where the names of the victims are engraved,  we prayed for those who were there. I didn’t want to go to the Museum.  We walked through the Oculus , this incredible architectural wonder that houses the latest shopping mall.
The Oculus route took us out to Church Street near Wall Street. We’d attended Trinity for Christmas Eve and here was St. Paul’s Chapel the oldest in New York City, opened 1766 and attended by Washington. It was a site of sanctuary in the 9-11 bombings with a room set off to commemorate that time.
After St. Paul’s we walked up to the City Hall to take pictures of the architecture and the grey squirrels.
A little further along Broadway there was a fabulous Miz Mooz New York Shoe store where Laura found just the right boots she’d been looking for and I paid for  the ‘birthday present’ I said I’d get her in New York.  Shoes are to women what alcohol and sports are to men.
Back at the original subway on Bleecker street we headed uptown to return to our hotel, first stopping at Bread and Butter for pizza slices and coca cola for our wild New Year’s Eve Party, just the two of us in our NYC hotel room with the television and Anderson and Lee waiting for the ball to drop.  We watched episodes of Law and Order pointing to places in NYC where we’d been while checking during commercials what was happening in Time’s Square.
Mariah Carey’s lip sync failed and the ball sort of blooped at the top but didn’t ‘descend’ on the screen like it had in previous years. Maybe the camera man was drunk or stoned but somehow it was over and the count and ball drop seemed less central than previous years.  We were shocked but finally Laura turned and we did kiss in the New Year.  I’m glad she remembered that.
It was a good day, kind of like a walk in an urban park.
2016 ended
Now 2017 has begun.  Happy New Year!

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