New York continues to amaze me afresh every day. I notice new things constantly, even in places that have started to become familiar to me. One thing I love the most about New York is the attention to detail shown to the city’s architecture, and it is so wonderful to spot mouldings, ghost signs and lovely old lettering on my daily walks around the city. I especially enjoy looking at structures built during the Art Deco period; invariably there are metal inserts with lovely designs etched on, intricate stonework, magnificent sculpture and clean, sinuous lines that rise high into the sky. Good design is not hard to find here; of course, there are plenty of featureless concrete blocks too, but they are far outweighed by their majestic neighbours, built to reflect New York’s fast growing status as the Greatest City on Earth in the early part of the 20th century. Contrasted with these streamlined, eminently fashionable structures are the beautiful and more humble Brownstones and red brick buildings that are dwarfed by their loftier neighbours. These quiet treelined streets Downtown and also in Brooklyn remind me of my beloved England, yet the web of fire escapes and ‘stoops’ are quintessentially American and add a very metropolitan feel that the quiet white stucco squares of London don’t have.
I am fortunate in that I get to go to Grand Central Station every day; such a beautiful, lofty hall dedicated to the mere milling about of men and women waiting for trains I have never seen the like of elsewhere. Each time I walk into its cavernous, blue tinted space lit by floor to ceiling windows that reflect the majesty of the city it serves, I spot something else to be delighted by. On Friday it was the tiny strip of blackened paint in the top corner of a section of the ceiling, which was left as a reminder of the damage cigarette smoke does after fairly recent renovation work that restored the magnificent paintwork, previously obscured by tar built up over decades. Smoking kills artwork too!
My favourite place so far has been The Metropolitan Museum of Art; a truly magnificent museum that will take me months to explore properly. This sprawling building contains a collection somewhere between my old workplace, the V&A, The British Museum, and The National Gallery, from what I have gathered , and I spent a very pleasurable couple of hours there on my fourth day in New York. From a Temple lifted from the Egyptian sands to its current resting place in a glass pyramid surrounded by Central Park, to the recreation of a genteel parlour of the highest fashion in mid 19th century New York, the Museum showcases a fascinating array of objects that made me feel like a child in a very lovely sweet shop. I particularly enjoyed the airy glass atriums that offer a terrific view of Central Park, as well as the rooftop, whose panoramic view of New York is quite something to behold. What I found of real interest was how similar yet also how different British and American art history is; many objects looked very familiar to me, and the period room recreations didn’t look overwhelmingly American, apart from the Shaker one. However, there is a definite influence of Native American culture, and also an overwhelming incorporation of immigrant cultures, in the art and design of America, which English design tends to lack. I like the ‘melting pot’ style very much, and I also love American Folk Art; the American Museum of Folk Art is still on my hit list, and I can’t wait to visit.
On Sunday I went to Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market; I am drawn to old and largely unnecessary objects like a moth to a flame, and I was in raptures as I wandered down the small stretch of 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue that was filled with every kind of random tat you could ever wish to see. Trays of costume jewellery sat alongside fur coats and vintage cameras; boxes of records jostled for supremacy over stacks of video tapes that have apparently now become ‘retro’. I was tempted to pick up an old suitcase for my planned weekend trips away, but the thought of carting it around with me all day in 30 degree heat was enough to put me off. A slice of pizza from a hole in the wall pizza parlour and a cup of watermelon later, I meandered down 8th Street, where a market filled with palm readers and tat from off the back of a truck was taking place. At 5o something street I hit Columbus Circle, where I shopped in Whole Foods, saw a movie being filmed, and then entered Central Park for some peace and quiet. My friend and I chatted while lying on a shady spot of grass, before making our way to Strawberry Fields, where we listened to a Beatles Tribute Band and tried to work out which of the huge buildings outside the railings was the Dakota Building. Then we caught a subway down to Union Square, student hub of New York, where we melted at puppies in a pet store window and did some more shopping, before catching our subway home. Yet another busy day, filled with random and exciting things only New York can provide. Can you believe that in two short weeks I have seen two movies and two TV shows being filmed? And been shouted at by a film director for attempting to cross the street in front of his shot?! That’s New York!
I have done much and relaxed little; I am reluctant to take subways as I am trying to find my way around on foot as much as possible, so walking fifty or sixty blocks a day, if not more, has become normal. I am also, of course, going to work every day, so I am really quite exhausted at the moment. This week I start classes, and I am also starting volunteer work. On top of this I am planning on taking a writing class, and I also need to find time to explore the city, read, make new friends, and, oh yes, sleep. So life is busy, and full; there is no time for homesickness, and also none for regrets. Of those, I have none. One look out of my apartment window, which shows me a beautiful panorama of Manhattan in all its glory, twinkling from across the other side of the Hudson River, never fails to remind me how lucky I am to be here, and of all the wonderful possibilities there are to come!