New York City, USA
New York’s personality is more distinctive and recognizable than
that of any other city in the world.
Note the use of the word ‘personality’ there – not ‘atmosphere’
or ‘vibe’. New York has definite personality. For all of its problems it also
has more of a community spirit than other metropolises of its size – this
becomes apparent when you consider the reasons that most people still refer to
it as a ‘town’. In many respects, that’s because it’s a settlement of several
million that has small town characteristics.
Brooklyn Bridge and Downtown Manhattan
A lot of this is to do with the fact that in a lot of ways New
York is not part of the United States of America. Of course, in a political and
geographical sense it’s North American through and through. It’s just that it
has a distinctly different feel from most of the country that surrounds it.
That probably has a lot to do with the city’s history. It’s traditionally a
city of immigrants. Over the years the population has been swollen by the
Irish, Jews, Hispanics, Afro-Caribbeans and people of a dozen other races and
origins. It remains one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth.
what do you do while you’re in New York, and what do you see? Well, if you’re
staying for a short while probably one of the things you should consider doing
is taking in a show. Broadway is packed with some of the greatest theaters in
America. The traditional Broadway ‘show’ is, of course, a musical. The great
avenue has been the breeding ground of some of the great popular music of the
twentieth century, and some of America’s greatest songwriters have made
fortunes here. During the immediate postwar years Broadway was regarded –
wrongly – as a hotbed of communist activity. This was probably because most of
its greatest composers, including George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Richard
Rodgers, were first or second generation expatriate Russian Jews – the city,
even then, was living up to the motto carved on the pedestal of the Statue of
|Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
you meditate on the irony that Moscow was the birthplace of modern American
popular music you can take a boat trip out to Ellis Island and admire ‘Lady
Liberty’ herself. The island was the first part of America that new immigrants
from the ‘old world’ set foot on during the huge wave of immigration that took
place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It only takes a few
minutes to get there by ferry from Battery Park on the southern tip of
Manhattan island. There’s now a great museum on the island, along with a ‘wall
of honor’ commemorating some of those who made the long journey from Europe to
found American families. It’s estimated that one in three modern Americans have
ancestors whose first steps on US soil were on Ellis Island: walking around the
echoing arrivals hall is an almost eerie experience. You can’t help thinking
that the poverty stricken Europeans who arrived here a century ago, however
‘tempest-tossed’ they may have been, had a rather better sight to greet them
than the modern refugees and seekers of asylum who get processed through the
plastic and concrete terminals of JFK.
you want to eat out in New York, you should try the local specialty:
everything. Just about every conceivable world cuisine is on offer here,. You
could move between restaurants for a truly cosmopolitan meal: a Somalian
starter, a Micronesian main course and a Scandinavian dessert. It’s impossible
to pick out any single establishment for review. There are two things, however,
you must try to ensure that you have the complete New York experience: a hotdog
and a bagel. New York street hotdogs are not always what you’d call great
eating, but having one is part of the city’s cultural experience. All vendors
are (in principle) licensed and inspected, so you can be reasonably confident
that you’re not going to suffer too many ill effects. Bagelries, one of the
many legacies of the city’s huge Jewish population – the largest outside Israel
– abound. You can eat bagels with all kinds of filling, but there’s little to
beat cream cheese.
It’s difficult to say how much New York has changed since 9/11 –
as far as the tourist is concerned, the answer is ‘probably not that much’, at
least in terms of some of the city’s more timeless qualities. Security is
tighter, maybe. But New York is still one of the great city experiences of
world, and one that everyone should take part in at least once in their lives.