New York delivers … but first, let me catch up on my sleep!
Having been to and experienced a taste of New York (five days is only a snapshot), I feel I understand John McEnroe better.
At Wimbledon, his brash, in-your-face attitude clashed with the hush tones of Centre Court. I know that where he grew up must have had an influence on him having seen for myself the go-getting city that is New York. It is relentless, of course because it doesn’t sleep nor stop. It keeps on keeping on. The grab-and-go nature of diners and cafes seemed to suit the New Yorkers. I even saw a woman read a book whilst walking. There is no time to stop in this city.
From a photography point of view, I had wanted to capture cool street shots – a yellow cab, a ‘don’t walk/walk’ sign, the commuters, the sky scrapers. I didn’t picture the scaffolding, the construction, the huge trucks – there wasn’t time to decipher what angle would make a good pic, you just had to keep walking to keep up with everyone. Even at Times Square, I didn’t know where to take the iconic pictures, the screens were everywhere, flashing, neon lights. At night time, there was an unusual sense of artificial daylight. Don’t get me started on the smells. Its saving grace was one set of screens that flashed up with Bible verses. That I didn’t expect but they were a welcome sign among the madness.
Last year, I got an amazing opportunity to visit Venice. It is the city where the bridges tell its story. The water from the lagoon weaves its way around and you can only explore on foot or by boat. In New York the buildings tell the story. They fight with each other to be the tallest, the shiniest, the most obscure even. For me, the Empire State building stands supreme. It is not the tallest anymore, but is the epitome of elegance and grace in the city with so many styles on show. It’s the marker to know where you are on the island of Manhattan – uptown or downtown. As our yellow cab drove us in from JFK, miles away we could spot it. It glimmers. We had been advised by a few friends to head for Top of the Rock, so that we could see the Empire State building, rather than visit it and not see it at all (obviously). We arrived at the Rockefeller Centre, resplendent with gold trim inside, and ascended the 67 floors by a speedy and might I add (for effect it must be) pitch black ride up, at 6.30pm. It has a great view of Central Park, the green mass of land in the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. We waited as the sun began to set over New Jersey, throwing pink light onto one side of the Empire State building. It was stunning. And we continued to wait in the evening glow as the city’s stars – hundreds and thousands of lights, were turned on, building by building, floor by floor. It was magical. A shimmering spectacle. You know how movies start and they have that skyline and the twinkling? This was played in a much longer version. For as long as you wanted, you could stay and watch. Only the tiredness from travelling kept us from admiring it any longer and we headed down to the ground level.
I figured tennis at Flushing Meadows in Queen’s would be different to SW19 in London. I knew they played music at the changeovers and I thought I was prepared for the contrast. The stadium we had tickets for Arthur Ashe, tennis’ largest stadium in the world. Period. With 23,771 seats, my sister and I, this our third Grand Slam together, took 3 escalators up to find our pair of seats in section 324. It was by no means full which was a shame as the atmosphere when full must be something else! The US Open split their matches between a day and a night session, so we opted for the day ticket but it allowed us to stay as long as we wanted. We arrived before 10am off the subway train to Mets-Willets Point and just 170 yards on the boardwalk brought us to the entrance. We dandered around taking in the tournament history signs and monuments and the sheer scale of seeing the Arthur Ashe stadium, like a giant salad bowl peeking up into the sky. There’s plenty of temptation to spend dollars with shopping opportunities left right and centre. And a food village with whatever type of nourishment you wanted from all over the world.
We ate our lunch before the first match kicked off at 12 noon – we travelled 3,000 miles to America to watch Andy Murray from Scotland play Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. The rallies were long and exciting but it was not a good day at the office for Andy, the 2012 US Open Champion who lost in 3 sets. Home favourite Madison Keys, the 2017 finalist, was up next and the second round match wasn’t as competitive and she defeated Yanina Wickmayer in under an hour. Then it was time to leave! It felt like we were just getting settled to the scale and the buzz of the arena. We were ushered out to make space for the night session, not before having one last glimpse at the Manhattan skyline from the highest point at the Billie Jean King Centre.
There was still a lot of tennis being played on the other courts and so we headed to watch Andy’s brother Jamie in a doubles match – which he and Bethanie Mattek-Sands won. After some souvenir shopping including the obligatory Tournament Programme with the iconic poster of Billie Jean King on the cover to mark 50 years of equal prize money at the Open, we fuelled up again. In the Fila store, we bumped into John McEroe and Bjorn Borg lookalikes. They posed with us for a photo and had travelled from Italy complete in vintage Sergio Tacchini and Fila outfits from the 1970s.
We watched our last tennis on the Grandstand court as last year’s US Open finalist Ons Jabeur was in a tight match with rising Czech teenage star Linda Noskova. As it was after 9pm, and our early/jet lag alarm clock had us up at 6am, we decided to leave the grounds and headed back for the subway.
So, I can understand why John McEnroe, the real John McEnroe is John McEnroe, even if I just know him from TV appearances. Being one to lean more to the quiet and subdue temperament of his rival Bjorn Borg, I found some solace in Central Park, where the contrast of green leafy trees and shiny glass buildings was more my cup of tea (not too many pots of tea in the city either while we are on the subject!). It was an oasis of calm in the busy city where 8 million people live and work (and holiday). The two farmer’s daughters got to see the squirrels play in the trees, the turtles enjoying the lake and the ducks swimming along nicely behind them. The sound of horses as they carried tourists around the 800 odd acres threw me back to Killarney Park in County Kerry. We even timed it perfectly to see seals having their lunch at the zoo, as the bells of the Delacorte Musical Clock chimed.
Of all the places I had seen or researched, the Oculus didn’t feature and so to come across it was a complete and welcome surprise. Especially when I just thought we were coming out of a subway station downtown (Cortlandt). It is where to get off for visiting Ground Zero and the 9/11 museum. It’s spectacular and very unusual. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect, to represent a dove in flight. The Oculus architecture is made out of softly curved steel white ribs that emerge from the earth to create a dome over a large concourse. The name comes from the strip of windows, or skylights, along the spine of the roof. Oculus is the Latin word for “eye,” which, in architecture, refers to a round or eye-like opening with a view of the sky.
Visiting Ground Zero is a New York must. We all remember where we were and what we were doing that September day in 2001. It was surreal. Being at the site was a somber moment. The sound of the water cascading down the four sides into an abyss reminded me of the sheer loss for so many people and generations of families. The 9/11 Memorial is a tribute of remembrance, honoring the 2,977 people killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993. The museum was closed at our time of the visit but we headed up the One World Observatory or Freedom Tower and were treated to the 360-degree views of Manhattan, the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge and New York Harbor, from the 104th floor. You could see the various piers on the Hudson River and even some rooftop baseball.
Four nights in the city that doesn’t sleep is just about right. The ‘noise is always loud’ as Alicia wrote in her classic hit. In the city that doesn’t sleep, I’m not sure how they do any dreaming. But my dreams from County Down came true by visiting New York. It would be great to visit again, catch the ferry to Ellis Island, where so many Irish people travelled through to make new lives after the famine. To soak up the atmosphere of a night match on Arthur Ashe. To take in a show on Broadway. Yes, I hope to be back – “Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York!”
This article was written by purplerain