My last trip to the city that never sleeps was just that, I never slept, I just got drunk. I spent the days taking in a few sites but predominately walked from bar to bar. I got so inebriated one evening I ventured to a store, bought groceries and pretended to a few tourists I lived in the area and proceeded to give them inaccurate directions before heading to my ‘local’ wine bar and then on to my ‘rented’ apartment. That same night I shaved my hair off.
This trip is some what different. A family affair and I’m determined to share with my daughter Ruby, adventures and discoveries within a city steeped in culture and history with an array of social background and a melting pot of ethnicity.
Our first full day in the big apple. We found ourselves awake at 3am, our body clocks still fully functioning on Greenwich Mean Time. Of course in New York regardless of time there are things to see and to do, so we excitedly walked a few blocks to grab a coffee and a bagel.
9.30am we met fellow guests in the hotel foyer and we adventured on the subway to Lower East Side, where we began our tour of a district vivid with colourful history and stories of working class immigrants looking for escape from their war ridden, famine endured countries to find a better life in the land of opportunities. Unfortunately Manhattan’s streets weren’t paved with gold as expected, actually they
weren’t paved at all and it was the laborious job of these immigrant men, women and children to do just that. It’s hard to imagine the crowded streets or the overwhelming smells of the past in an area where indoor plumbing was non-existent and adults had to take shifts to sleep within overcrowded rooms and squalid conditions. The tenements still stand strong in the lower east of Manhattan and are captured within the Tenement Museum. It’s ironic to think that New Yorkers are now struggling to save to buy or rent these social dwellings, the exact same buildings their ancestors so desperately tried to escape from. It’s disappointing to learn the yuppies are moving in and the New York skyline will further change as skyscrapers tower above squashing indoor markets and
historic tenement sweatshops.
Walking into Chinatown we learned of The Chinese Exclusion Act, which was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur in 1882. It was one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in US history, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. The law wasn’t lifted until 1943. The strain caused huge conflict for Chinese immigrants living in Manhattan and it would have been ludicrous for any white civilian to venture between the streets of Little China. Since 1943 Chinatown has grown considerably and is still creeping further east towards the East River. Tales of the Tong Wars on bloody corner brought us outside Nom Wah Tea Parlour famous for featuring in movies such as Spider-Man and TV hits like Law and Order.
Our tour finished at Columbus park where Ruby and I continued the walk towards the One World Trade Centre and along the Hudson River to Battery Park. We set sail towards Liberty Island where Libertas the Roman goddess stood with her torch and tablet which has inscribed July 4th 1776, the date of the American Declaration of Independence. A welcoming statue for immigrants arriving from far off lands. Ruby in awe of it’s greatness took one thousand photos, from the figure itself to the seagulls circling above it, to the shoes she was wearing when she visited it.
Catching the subway on Wall Street to Union Square where we walked passed Gandhi and Warhol’s Factory whilst making our way to the Chelsea Hotel. Ever imagined a place where your favourite artists resided, a hotel where art, music, literature and creative freedom were encouraged within the walls and upon the cast iron balconies of a Victorian Gothic building. Where films were made, books were written and murderous crimes happened. Chelsea Hotel where Jack Kreouac penned ‘On The Road’ whilst Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg sat at the bar, where Warhol filmed ‘Chelsea Girls’ and Leonard Cohen famously pleasured Janis Joplin, where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were guests, where Dee Dee Ramone ran naked in the corridors and Sid Vicious slit Nancy Spungen’s throat. I stood in awe, Ruby didn’t get it and my explanation fell deaf on her eight year old ears. If walls could talk this building would have a grand story to tell, the movers and shakers passing through this infamous dwelling is incomprehensible and I would give anything to walk through the corridors and peak in the rooms myself.
After dinner we once more found ourself at Time Square. For me it’s the most American thing about New York, big, brash and in your face. It’s a haven for tourists and your easily ripped off. Ruby and I almost got in a fight with three minions, a story i would like to forget. Toys r us has a Ferris wheel and a life-size Barbie house. The Disney shop has an oversized plush Sven and a million other Frozen memorabilia. The M&M shop has walls lined with sweets in every colour. The flashing lights of advertisements and the radiant atmosphere brought twinkles to Ruby’s eyes as if she were in children’s paradise. She was.
We were sleeping by 9, exhausted and still excited. We definitely slept in the city that never sleeps.
Long live the VEF and New York, we are living the DREAM QUEEN.