November 01, 2008
Having recovered from our pounding on the mooring ball in the Hudson River on Tuesday (Oct 28), we decided to stay in NYC a bit longer than originally planned, delaying our departure for Norfolk, VA, until Saturday. The weather after the storm was clear and sunny but still pretty cold in the mornings with the cabin being only 44F when we got up and our main source of heat (without shore power) being cooking on the gas stove.
On Wednesday afternoon, after assuring ourselves that the boat would be all right despite the continued breezes, we visited Macy’s Department store which was celebrating its 150th Anniversary. We also wandered around the surrounding areas including Herald Square, Bryant Park, and, as darkness fell elsewhere, Times Square. We went downtown on Thursday to see how things were going on Wall Street (the Dow Jones Index actually went up that day) and visited the Federal Hall (across Wall Street from the New York Stock Exchange). Federal Hall was where George Washington was inaugurated on April 30th, 1789 (New York was the US Capital from 1785 – 1790). It was also where Congress first met and adopted the Bill of Rights and created the Departments of State, War and Treasury, and the US Supreme Court. Given our tour of the sites in Boston that were significant in the creation of the nation, it seemed appropriate to see where the first President of the United States of America was inaugurated. Inside, there was an exhibition of interesting and candid newspaper pictures of various US Presidents from the 20th Century which fit well with the buzz of the approaching election. Interestingly we had not noticed many election posters or signs in New York City, whereas in places like New Hampshire there had been signs for competing candidates all over the place. To add to the sense that we were at the font of American democracy, there was a small demonstration in progress outside Federal Hall, protesting the vote to remove term limits for the NYC Mayor, which would allow Michael Bloomberg to stand for a third term.
We also walked around the huge Ground Zero site. This was a bit disappointing as there is not much to see other than massive construction and even that cannot be viewed from anywhere very well. There is a Visitors Center / Gallery to try to cater to the many sightseers but the lines were long and we decided to leave that for another time. Having visited in December 2001 when everything was still so raw and disorganized, we were a bit surprised that the huge construction site makes the place seem a bit mundane at the moment. I am sure that the area will be more suitably reflective once the new buildings are finished and the memorials are complete and open.
We then walked up West Broadway to met our niece Olympia at her cool job in the Anthropology store in Soho and have a lovely dinner with her. She is in charge of the design of the displays and this store is all about interesting displays of the clothing, small home-items, etc., not only in the beautiful windows but throughout the store. She clearly enjoys her job and living in NYC and it was wonderful to see where she worked. As we dined in a bar/restaurant where we were surrounded by intriguingly carved pumpkins, she encouraged us to try to attend the Halloween Parade the following evening although she warned us that the crowds were large and formed early.
Having cruised past the United Nations Buildings when we came down the East River, it seemed like a good idea to take a tour of the place, which we did on Friday morning. As might be expected, there were visitors from all over the world and it really was inspiring to see the flags representing the 192 member countries fluttering outside. The wait for the hour-long tour was not too bad and there were many interesting sculptures and displays to peruse outside and while waiting in the lobby. That day the General Assembly Hall was open (but not the Security Council Room) and the guide did and excellent job of emphasizing the purpose, jurisdiction, and operations of the UN. There were various interesting exhibits in the corridors outside the Hall, including exotic gifts to the UN from various nations (such as the incredible carving made from eight elephant tusks given by China in 1974 – prior to the ivory trade ban), items recovered from Hiroshima that were burned in the atomic explosions, and "Plumpy Nut" a 5,000 calorie food ration based on peanuts that does not need to be refrigerated and can be fed to starving children. It was amazing to sit at the back of the General Assembly Hall which can seat more than 1,800 people and see where so many global issues are discussed and decisions made. The pairs of representatives from each country are seated alphabetically in the hall but the starting point (at the front of the hall) is randomly changed every so often. While we were there the first country was a country beginning with B (maybe Brazil…I forget) so the A’s were all at the back (Argentina’s desk is visible in the photo).
Although I’m not one to usually comment upon, or particularly enjoy gift shops, there were some very good ones in the basement at the UN. Some sold items from the UN agencies’ catalogs (e.g., UNICEF cards and gifts), while the main one had not just generic UN items but also specialty products from a huge variety of different countries, all neatly displayed and labeled by country of origin. It was a global exhibit in itself. The gardens outside were closed for renovations and there were signs to explain how the whole UN complex was undergoing an overhaul to make it more sustainable.
While in an international mood, we took the subway to Chinatown and walked along some of the busy streets. It was remarkable how much it looked, sounded, and felt like being in China, a privilege that I enjoyed in 2006 when I went with my friend and colleague, Kaoru, to Hong Kong, Hainan Island, Kunming, and surrounding area. After much debate we finally selected a restaurant for lunch where we were seated in the far back (only Chinese patrons in the window seats) and enjoyed an excellent meal. It was lucky that we had a large, late lunch because we ended up staying in town for the Halloween Parades and having got a front-row place to stand, dared not leave to get any dinner!
From Chinatown we went to Greenwich Village and wandered around looking for the streets and bars, such as The Bitter End Bar, that Randall had knew about from the Beatnik days. When we found ourselves surrounded by small children in costumes we realized that there was a children’s parade before the main event. The stores that sell costumes must do very well in that area! We also noticed that children (with their parents) go "Trick or Treating" in the small, local stores, restaurants, and even into places like The Bitter End Bar… We also saw masses of NY Police Officers being assembled in preparation for the parade. Presumably parades are regular enough events in NYC that their organization is routine but we were impressed to see so many cops gathered together.
We found a place on a barrier near the beginning of the main parade route on 6th Avenue about two hours before it started and waited for the sun to set, the crowds to amass, and the parade to begin at 8:30 pm. The crowd was good natured and the route was well patrolled by police officers who generally seemed to be in relaxed moods. This parade is a bit unusual (in our experience) in that anyone in costume can participate. It starts with some organized teams walking on stilts in ghostly costumes or working puppets and banners that sweep out over the crowd. There are bands or music at various intervals along with coordinated dance groups or floats, and between them are random collections of folk in costume just walking along and having a good time. Yes, we saw some Sarah Palin’s (one was amazingly similar to her) but mostly it was the usual Halloween themes (photos with next journal entry).
We decided to leave before the end, thinking that this would give us a better chance of being able to get on the subway sometime before mid-night. We did manage that but only after being squeezed along in the densest crowd I have ever experienced to get from our vantage point on 6th Avenue out to a side road. We were not the only people wanting to take the subway but the police were allowing people to enter in groups so that the platforms and turnstiles did not get over-crowded. While it all looked chaotic and rather alarming to us, NYC parade neophytes, it was all remarkably well organized and well worth the effort to experience.