We are in New York. The last time I was here was in 1979. For Jean Michel, it’s the first time. We are visiting my two grown-up children, Leonardo and Black Cat, who live and work in NYC. We have no agenda. “We’re in your hands”, I say. “I want you to show me your New York”.
The first day of our stay is a Friday so both the kids are at work. We want to see the Statue of Liberty which is French of course. There is another one in Paris. So after going downstairs to News, the local café, and having a coffee and bagel (which we don’t think is anything special), we walk from where we are staying in Union Square, which is ideally located in the lower part of Manhattan to the free Staten Island ferry on the southern tip of the island.
The sun is shining, it’s very warm, it’s 9 o’clock in the morning and New York feels much better than it did the first time I was here. The first thing that strikes me are all the fire escapes on the front of buildings that we all know from West Side Story. Black Cat later explains their origin.
Initially there were only inside staircases but in 1860, two separate fires destroyed two crowded tenement houses. In both cases, fire and smoke blocked the sole stairway, trapping those on the upper floors and claiming a total of 30 lives. Following the twin tragedies, public outcry forced the legislature to pass a law requiring fire escapes on all newly constructed tenement houses, followed by retroactive installation on all existing tenements In 1871, the requirement for fire escapes was expanded to include hotels, boarding houses, office buildings and factories.
We go past NYU, New York University, which occupies several buildings in the area. We come across several typiically American delivery trucks.
We walk through Washington Square which I later learn is Black Cat’s favourite park, very near to where she has a flat share with two Americans. It even has a triumphal arch built in 1892 in Washington Square Park to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States in 1789. Through it we can see the One World Trade Centre.
We walk down Broadway until we reach Ground Zero. I have never watched any footage although I listened to the live reports on the car radio in Black Cat’s company in Paris on 11 September 2001. I was taking her home from school at the time. I was afraid that if I saw the videos I might never take a plane again. Today is 9 September 2016 and a man in a tourist booth tells me there is a parade at midday.
I have no idea what to expect at Ground Zero. We approach the first memorial, a black marble hole in the ground with water running down all four sides. Around the edge are the names of the 3000 people who died immediately or in the aftermath of the attacks. Roses and other small bouquets of flowers are scattered around the names.
I am overcome with emotion. It reminds me of when I saw one of the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall near Checkpoinit Charly. There is a sort of hush around me and I see I am not the only person to be moved. There are people taking selfies which I find it difficult to imagine. We move to the second, identical memorial. Each corresponds to the surface area taken up by the fallen towers.
Nearby we hear bagpipes playing. We are relieved to have a little light entertainment. It turns out to be various police bands from throughout the country practicing for the midday parade organised by the New York Police Department to honor its 23 officers who died at the World Trade Center.
After listening to various bands we think we’ll skip the parade but by the time we visited Wall Street nearby, it’s midday and we watch the beginning.
We continue our walk to the Staten Island Ferry. It’s excessively hot (we even buy hats) and the crowd is enormous but so is the ferry and, as it turns out, there’s plenty of room to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty as we go past. By now, the sky is somewhat overcast, to my disappointment. It’s just after 1 pm.
After a 25-minute ride, we leave the ferry (we have no choice) and have a coffee in the terminal before boarding the next ferry back. We have been told there isn’t much to see on Staten Island and by now our feet are beginning to feel the miles we’ve walked today. The ferry back is much more crowded as it’s now 2.30 pm.
We take the underground back to Union Square after buying a 7-day pass each. The underground station is horrendously hot and the air-conditioned train is cold by contrast. We are glad to be above ground again!
We have an appointment with Black Cat at her office in Times Square at 5 pm so are pleased to be able to relax a little at home before going out again. The construction site opposite, which started at 7 am, stops at 4 pm, which is a relief.
Black Cat works in the most amazing building, with a help-yourself bar, lounge chairs and an eating area on each floor but the rooftop is the best! While we are there, we see a young lady stretched out on a sofa with her laptop propped up in front of her. It’s a whole other world! Black Cat takes us down to her office and introduces us to her workmates and boss. They are very relaxed and friendly. I’m even given a red publicity hoodie.
After walking through Times Square with its agressive neon signs, we cross Bryant Park and sit in garden chairs and listen to a guitar player. Black Cat tells us that she came to Shakespeare in the Park here during the summer. What a wonderful setting!
She then takes us up to the top of the 230 Fifth rooftop bar on 5th Avenue to see New York at night. There are crowds of people but we are still able to appreciate the amazing view. We don’t stop for a drink – we could be here forever!
We finish the evening at Leonardo’s flat-share on Lexington Avenue in Kips Bays where he has cooked us some excellent steaks. We start with a cocktail which seems appropriate in Manhattan. He takes onto his balcony which is away from the street and we are surrounded with the constant hum of air-conditioners.
By the time we walk back to Union Square, we are ready for bed! The weekend promises to be full on.