One of the first places we visited in New York was the Bethesda fountain in Central Park.
I started having dreams about the city again last night, after rewatching the first episode of the Netflix documentary Hip Hop Evolution. It’s strange how actually having walked around a city changes the way you see it on screen, even things which you’ve seen before, and even parts of it which you only visited briefly, like the Bronx. More about that below.
For about three weeks after we got back, I dreamed about New York almost every night. Sometimes they were travel-anxiety dreams about the subway or getting to airports but mostly they were just about the buildings and people and the energy, which I still miss. I’ve been putting off blogging about the trip because I still feel quite overwhelmed by the experience of America and don’t feel like I’ve digested it enough to put a lot of words around it, so this post is mostly photos.
I didn’t want to be a pain and go on some long quest to try and find a minor obsession like a Toynbee Tile, so it was great that I noticed this one on 43rd St when we were roaming around Midtown trying to buy SIMs.
We didn’t go up One World Trade or the Empire State: instead, we booked a table at Bar 65 in the Rockefeller Center, where you can get fancy cocktails as well as a view.
The Temple of Dendur at the Met, which has a weird Federation of Planets vibe, as if you’re on a starship which scooped up an ancient relic to save it. (It was going to be flooded when they built the Aswan Dam, so that’s kind of what happened.)
The best meal we had was lunch at Le Bernardin, which I didn’t take photos of, because that would have wrecked the experience. The second-best lunch was this bodega reuben, halfway up the path to the Cloisters at the northern tip of Manhattan.
I booked my spot on the Hush Birthplace of Hip Hop tour a couple of months before the trip, and it was brilliant. This is is where Kool Herc held what’s agreed to be the first hip hop party, in the Bronx in 1973.
I’d like to point out that I was oldest person on the tour – there was another white dude there who was celebrating his fiftieth birthday, and I’m not fifty until the end of this month – but I was also delighted that Grandmaster Caz kicked off the tour like this:
“Most days I’m the only one on this bus who can remember a time before hip hop existed. [points at me] NOT TODAY!”
W H Auden, Benjamin Britten, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles and Gypsy Rose Lee shared a house in Brooklyn Heights during WWII: I knew that the building had been demolished by Robert Moses, so I didn’t try to make a pilgrimage to it. But when we were walking up from DUMBO to the subway stop I thought Middagh St sounded familiar, and I was right: this is the part of the street which wasn’t cut in two by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
I didn’t know that these lines from one of my favourite Books tracks were taken from the facade of the Brooklyn Public Library, but it makes sense. It also made me a bit teary. The contrast between this building and the New more famous New York Public Library in Manhattan is interesting: one is modernist, austere, almost science-fictional, and the plaques on the inside are all about civic government: the other is ornate, beaux-arts and based on private philanthropy, with enormous lists of donors on the walls.
For our second week we stayed at Sankofa Aban, a brownstone B&B in Bed-Stuy, which was a complete and refreshing change of pace from the hotel near Times Square we’d been staying at. (If there was one thing I’d do different about the trip, it would be staying at Times Square: I didn’t like it.)
This is the 23rd Regiment Armory in Crown Heights, a spectacular and enormous structure – this is just the front third, it looks like George R R Martin’s personal zeppelin hangar – which now houses the worst homeless shelter in New York City.
Sean Price is my brother’s favourite MC, and the mural which appeared after his death in 2015 was twenty minutes’ walk from Sankofa, so we went there on our last full day in the city.
It was a big day: we then went to the Color Factory, walked the High Line, had lunch at Le Bernardin, went for another walk to Central Park, and then went to see the revival of Oklahoma! We had already seen a lot of theatre, especially once Christine worked out the best way to get cheap tickets, and I had to be talked into Oklahoma! because yes I know that it’s important in the history of musical theatre but it’s also the corniest show, there’s literally corn in the first verse of the first song, but two theatregoers had recommended it to us – New York audiences are very chatty – and I’m glad we went, because it was the most radical piece of theatre we saw, and capped off one of the most fun days I’ve ever had.
It also had this great t-shirt.
There are a lot more photos on my Flickr, although in putting this together I’ve realised that I forgot to upload a bunch from the Color Factory and the High Line. New York, I miss you, see you again soon.