I've always associated New York City with Central Park. Not the Statue of Liberty. Not the Brooklyn Bridge. Not the Empire State Building. Not any other recognisable landmark. Wasn’t even sure why this was the case, until I realised it was because of Simon and Garfunkel’s epoch-making free concert there in 1981. Become a huge fan over the years, and watching the DVD, with the two re-united, singing to an audience of half a million (!!!) people, always makes me want to have been born early enough to have attended the gig (I was four years old at the time, for the record); makes me want to be a New Yorker, if only for those few hours. Have another vivid New York image – the seedy, nightmarish world without hope in Martin Scorcese’s stunning Taxi Driver. Decide it’s probably best to try and capture some of the essence of the latter, rather than try my hand at being a psychotic insomniac who happens to drive a cab.
Thus, on a beautiful summer’s day, I find myself lying on my back in Central Park, staring at interesting clouds in a blue sky, a cool breeze rippling through the grass. New York seems to be out here in force; couples canoodling, families playing baseball, yoga students contorting themselves, Jimmy Choo-shod society ladies airing out their Chihuahuas and Pekineses. There’s a palpable sense of ‘do your own thing, and don’t let nobody tell you any different’ here; it’s great. Today’s also the annual free concert by the New York Philharmonic, so crowds build rapidly until, by late afternoon, it’s the proverbial sea of people. Music’s predictably superb, superseded only by the electric delight of being in a huge, appreciative audience like this. May have missed S&G, but at least I can say I caught the Philharmonic for free!
Can’t be in New York City and not go to Manhattan. Heck, Manhattan is NYC, if you ask a lot of people. The term ‘skyscraper’ was first coined here in the late 19th century, when multistorey office buildings began springing up due to lack of space, and they haven’t really stopped since. It’s said you can tell a tourist in NYC from the way they walk around looking up all the time; they’ve got that spot-on. Virtually impossible, as a first-time visitor, to tear your eyes away from these towering behemoths, both old and new. I walk around goggle-eyed at first, only beginning to look ahead after bumping into a few onrushing locals and being at the receiving end of a few heated ‘Hey, watch it, bud!’ barbs. Lower Manhattan’s a great place to do a walking tour, because of the number of places of historical interest. City Hall, seat of the city’s Government since 1812, is one such venerable edifice and makes a good starting point. Turn right, cross the road and I’ll be on the Brooklyn Bridge, but I’ve read it’s a great sight lit up at night, so I wander the other way and resolve to return. The Woolworth Building, the world’s tallest in 1913, is an imposing presence as I head towards St Paul’s Chapel, the city’s oldest church and a haven of calm and respite during the madness of 9/11, when civilians, police and firefighters took shelter there. Was one of the few structures to not suffer any damage, which is remarkable considering it’s right next door to the WTC site.