Dizzy in the Apple
New York City has 5 boroughs, and in an 8-day visit the most you can hope for is a superficial acquaintance with one of them. E and I spent most of our time in Manhattan, blistering our feet and working through our meagre sock supplies as we hiked the length and breadth of the island. We made appearances in as many different neighbourhoods as possible. We sampled soul food in Harlem, stellar cupcakes in Greenwich Village and grunge chic in the Lower East Side. On one adventure we followed tangled streets deep into the belly of Chinatown and felt like we were in another world entirely. We ate a cheap and colourful dinner at an eccentric little place so different from anything we had encountered that it was almost a shock to emerge and discover we were still in NYC.
I've filled my head with a motley collection of observations over the past 8 days - here are a few. The serving sizes are massive! As I write this I am sipping coffee from a cup tall enough to get into most rides at Coney Island. But the buildings, of course, are much larger. I've spent a lifetime being looked down on by people, but nothing quite dwarfs you like an island of brick-and-mortar giants. It left me feeling off-kilter, and I was relieved to visit smaller-scale Brooklyn and feel the lifting of a strange dizziness brought on by Manhattan's huge structures. But if you'd like to own an apartment in one of these buildings, bring your chequebook - the average 2-bedroom Manhattan apartment costs US$1.5m, and $3.6m for 3 bedrooms. The recent boom in housing prices is making Manhattan inaccessible to all but the very wealthy, with the result that most people (and culture) are heading to the other boroughs. The smallish Manhattan apartments do not discourage New Yorkers from owning dogs, however - and lots of them. Owners (and paid dog-walkers) often take them for walks late at night, sometimes three or four on a leash, ranging from poodles to greyhounds. The dogs were probably doing much better than us at coping with the heat. NYC is renowned for its summer heat, and in Manhattan it's a little hotter because the heat gets absorbed by the concrete and asphalt. But it's the humidity that makes grown men cry, and in this respect the city proved generous.
New York lives up to its reputation as a melting pot. The mix of people (35% white, 25% black, 27% Latino, about 10% Asian/Pacific Islander) is obvious pretty much everywhere. The city seems mostly comfortable with this mix, but the odd exception arises. The day before we arrived, for instance, a tour bus employee reported that a group of "suspicious looking" men had boarded a city tour bus. Police halted the bus, then in the middle of Times Square, and ordered all passengers to put their hands in the air. They were taken off the bus one by one and asked to stand off to the side. All were released except for five "South Asian looking" men, who were handcuffed and ordered to kneel on the footpath. Dogs scoured the bus for any bombs they might have planted, but none were found. The five men were questioned and later released without charge. Later a spokesman for the tour company defended the employee's actions, saying something like: "And what if we hadn't reported it and something had happened? What would people have said then?" According to that logic, I guess any number of suspicious looking men could find themselves handcuffed on New York sidewalks.
Lots more photos here