I’m Goin’ To New York (apologies to Jimmy Reed)
When I had graduated high school way back in the dark ages (1968) I considered moving out of Philly. I had some friends who went to college in interesting cities, so I spent a month in Boston and a month in New York City trying to figure out in which city I should take up residence. In the end, though, I decided not to move to either one. Boston had a great folk music scent at the time, but it seemed too insular and was too racist. New York also had a great music scene, but it was getting expensive and it had too many scenes of all types going on loudly and constantly. I truly felt that if I stayed in Manhattan I would either go crazy with over stimulation or just be worn out. So I came back to Philly, and I am glad I did. One of the things I love about Philly is that you can put your own scene together here, and it is easy to navigate between scenes. It is even possible to take a vacation from a scene or scenes on occasion, and I do that some times as well. But I still absolutely love visiting New York City-Manhattan to be precise. I am one of those stereotypical, “Couldn’t live there, but love visiting” folks you hear so much about. Six or seven times a year I take off for the Apple, usually for a day trip and occasionally for a weekend. I always have a grand time, and this past weekend was no exception. My wife and I spent a joyous Manhattan weekend of wonderful things to do and see, great food, good weather, and great places to walk. I love that town!
We went up for a Saturday morning Friends of the High Line members tour of the High Line, that wonderful “railroad park in the sky’ that has brought so much wonder and joy to people from New York and around the world. I was introduced to the Line in 2012 by a Dukes fan familiar with my love of cities, and I have visited the High Line just about every time I have returned to New York. Like getting food from a street vendor in front of the Metropolitan Museum, it is one of the New York things that I simply must do when I am in Manhattan. Saturday was a chance to meet other members of the Friends of the High Line and to get some behind the scenes detail and history on a guided walk on the Line. Jeff, our guide, was enthusiastic and energetic, and the group was a nice mix of age, gender, and ethnicity. Jeff had great information on the history of the Line and on how and why certain plants worked in the park and others didn’t, do so well. He also pointed out some small details about specific parts of the line that I had not noticed before, and those were great surprises for me. Like me, Jeff, loves the way the High Line is an urban park-intentionally designed to bring in the city and to be a part of all that its urban setting has to offer. Central Park, that other great New York park, was designed to help remove folks from the city-it came about when cities viewed parks as providing relief from the crowds, noise, smells and pollution of mid-19th century city life. And it does that job magnificently. The High Line, on the other hand, wants to let the city in; to more fully immerse a person into the city and all of its chaotic energy and beauty. The two are not polar opposites to me; I love both parks and both purposes. Each park does its job incredibly well, and together the two present me with a more complete picture of what being in a city can be. I get plenty of pleasure from both.
The Line on Saturday was its usual wonderful self. Languages from all over the world were heard, people of all different ages were out and enjoying the day, and the plantings and design features of the line were beautifully present. The plants, trees and flowers were dazzling, the sculptures and wall paintings were breathtaking, and the views of the skyline and the rooftops of downtown NY were crystal clear. I was again amazed at the magnificent views the Line offers of the city. New York has a staggering amount of rooftop gardens, and the High Line allows one to see many of them. There are rooftop palm trees, vegetable gardens, colorful flowers, meadows and more. There are also the wonderful, challenging and, “What the hell is that!?” examples of New York City architecture all visible from the Line. There were also new additions and installations to the line since I had last visited three months ago. They keep changing and adding to the place so it is never boring or tiring. Saturday was simply a wondrous day to be on the Line; there were great views, great conversations and plenty of wonder to be had.
Our weekend also featured good food and good walking. Our hotel was on the Upper West Side, so we had easy access to Harlem and Marcus Samuelson’s Red Rooster restaurant at 125th and Lenox Ave. My wife recently read his autobiography, made one of the recipes from his cookbook, and watched several TV shows about him. To say she was excited to visit one of his restaurants is an understatement. We met my niece there for lunch on Friday. and it was just a fantastic experience. It was a delicious, full flavored meal in a setting with a great waitstaff, unique indoor and outdoor décor, and bathrooms filled with wonderful snapshots and postcards of everyday moments in African-American life. The whole place seemed to surround us with fun, joy and love. And because New York is New York, we also ate at a Peruvian-Chinese place on Friday night, Sullivan’s Bakery, one of my favorite coffee houses, Saturday afternoon, a great old-style French restaurant on Saturday night, and a Mexican coffeehouse/diner for brunch Sunday morning. Wow! I remember growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s when it was unusual for someone to eat across cultures. Going to New York always makes me appreciative of the Immigration Act of 1965. That Act dropped quotas on immigrants and allowed more folks into the US from many different cultures. That in turn has enabled us to widen our food experiences to foods from around the world. It has radically broadened the American palate, and no place makes that clearer than New York City.
We followed each meal with nice long walks around the different neighborhoods we ate in-Harlem, Chelsea, the Upper West Side and South of Houston (SOHO). Each neighborhood has its little architectural gems -great brownstones with columns and incredible stone carvings in Harlem and on the West Side, some cute townhouses and multi-level structures in Chelsea and SOHO, and more. As in most cities “up” was the direction to look as we walked because columns, rooftops, upper story windows and cornices frequently displayed wonderfully detailed work by stonemasons. It was as if the designers were painters who had signed their work near the top of the canvas instead of the bottom. That quietly adds majesty and solidity to so many of the city’s older buildings.
Overall, then, we thoroughly enjoyed some of the pleasures and unique features that make New York City what it is. Yes, there are real problems there, as there are in all cities and, in fact, as there are in many types of places in the US. And, yes, ugliness can arise. But I never want to lose site of the magic, innovation, sense of surprise, beauty and boundless energy that cities embody. For me cities are amazing creations that can produce some amazingly wonderful things and allow for experiences that one would be hard-pressed to have in any other type of location. It was a joy to drink in so much of what one of the world’s great cities had to offer over a glorious summer weekend. It was a gift that we totally enjoyed.
(Here are a couple of links to some of what we saw in NYC: