I have been in the US now 18 months, and I really have loved every minute of the experience of living in New York City, as hectic and exhausting as it can be! Reflecting on my experiences in my new adopted country, the country of my paternal relatives and history, I found this old email recount of my first experience of coming to the US – for Thanksgiving in 2009 – wow 5 years ago! Time flies! It had been almost 50 years since my Dad had been back to the US of A, the country of his birth, and we shared a true family experience going into the suburbs of Jersey for the afternoon Thanksgiving meal – something I highly recommend for a true blue-blooded American experience!
On the one hand it felt like I’d been away forever and my Sydney life was an alternate universe (much like I feel now), whereas on the other hand it felt like I had just started my trip the day before… and, as per my usual ‘summary’ I attempted to keep it as brief as I could, but you will find I always have so much to say that even an unabridged version couldn’t possible communicate just how wonderful the trip and its discoveries had been!
So, much like the start of this blog with its distinct New York flavor, the tale begins in USA…
New York – It all began one dark Sunday night in the Big Apple in the US of A…New York City…what an amazing city! It really is the city that never sleeps – arrived in Sudnay night staying near the Empire State Building in midtown and the streets around Fifth Avenue were still packed with people! How to summarise a city which has so much – the glamour of Upper West Side and Central Park apartments of Madonna, Yoko Ono, the glitz of never ending shows along Broadway, the tacky lights and flashing signs of Times Square that make you feel like you’ve just steeped into a movie set (in fact, you see filming all over the place as you walk down the street and people are trying to have movie takes on Fifth Avenue in between the crazy yellow taxi traffic!), the culture of the amazing museums like the Met and MOMA, the incredible awe you feel at being surrounded by high rise buildings of Manhattan that dwarf you (the sheer height and quantity of all the buildings in Manhattan make you feel like you’ve been superimposed at a smaller than normal size onto the streets, it’s quite an incredible feeling!). The amazing architecture of Art Deco mixed with earlier classical and later ultramodern skyscrapers gives New York a distinct and unique feel. The landmark buildings, Wall St bull, Brooklyn Bridge and shops along Fifth Avenue all decked out with the most beautiful winter Christmas lights, the Rockerfeller Centre and Bryant Park ice skating rinks are such icons that you feel like you’ve stepped into a movie set at times!
It was quite an emotional experience to come to New York and discover my heritage as well – I went to Ellis Island where 12 million immigrants arrived primarily from Eastern and Southern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century, including both my grandparents on my Dad’s side. Seeing what they must have experienced, the diversity of the immigrants, the openness of the American nation, and the passing by the Statue of Liberty as the symbol of hope for so many immigrants over decades who were escaping persecution was quite moving and poignant. The Statue of Liberty is a truly beautiful image, and quite an incredible feat of enginerring (the inside was designed by Gustav Eiffel!) given that this copper metal statue gives a stunning sensation of sold folded material! The meaning of the statue, a gift from France as a symbol of liberty and freedom at American Independence, with the 7-spike crown symbolising the 7 continents of the world, the flame of freedom, and the statue steeping on the broken chains of oppression. The view back to the skyline of Manhattan is also spectacular – even on a freezing windy autumn day!
I had the chance to experience the culinary and gastronomical delights of New York at the various hot dog houses, the Union Square markets, some amazing restaurants in SoHo and West Village. One of the highlights was some amazing Italian food (it’s fab in NYC!) that one of my sister’s friends, T, who is studying at Columbia Uni brought me to – it was a converted wharehouse that had awesome decor and funky glass doors that gave you a view out to the terraces and beautiful trendy apartments of West village, followed up with cocktails at this live jazz bar and one of T’s local hangouts also in West Village which was literally a door on a random street corner with a dodgy looking man standing outside who would let you in, you descended some dark stairs and found yourself in this pokey hole of a bar, which had once been a prohibition era jazz bar, with 1940s pressed metal bar and diner style seats you snuggled into and sat around chatting over amazing cocktails!
Squirrels in central park, strawberry hills where the large ‘Imagine’ mosaic to remember the death of John Lennon in NYC, the night view of the city from Empire State which has an incredible story of its 102 storeys having been built within the record time of 1 year and 45 days during the Depression, the awesome back streets and trendy galleries of SoHo, the area around NYU and Washington Square with all of its student hangouts and restaurants, the fabulous New York accent, the charismatic salesmen on the streets, the shops (Saks & Company must have had the most incredible jewellery sections with bracelets for $17,000 and up!) and more…I really do love New York, even though it is such a cliché!
Philadelphia – I decided to head to Philly to meet up with my Dad’s cousin, Sandy, who I had never met before but who was an incredibly friendly and wonderful woman, like an Aunty I had never known! She was delightful and we spent an entire day discovering Philly, a very historic town which although feels very very small after NYC, is one of the most important cities in American history – the declarattion of Independence was signed there i 1776, and between 1790 and 1800 it was the capital of the USA while Washington was being built. The Bill of Rights was signed there whilst it was home to parliament in those 10 historic years of the foundations of the independent America and many famous Americans, including William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and others had strong associations with Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell is also housed there which has been a symbol of liberty and freedom not just during the times of the independence, but also later during times such as the Civil Rights movement of a better world. There are many areas in Philly which also have a swanky feel of West Village and SoHo in New York, with small brick houses and apartment blocks which appear traditional on the outside but often house amazing modern artsy interiors. I also got a chance to try a hot pastrami sandwich and motza balls from Heschel’s famous Jewish eatery – gosh, the pastrami sandwich was HUGE and all the animal fat still on it (ugh!) but it was an incredible taste…I probably don’t need one for another 23 years! I also ended up meeting up with a friend I met travelling last year in Lagos, Portugal from Philly who showed me the swanky night scene of Philly and the pubs around town – always good to be shown around by a local I say! The funny thing about Philly is that the streets going north south are numbered (kind of like NYC, so it’s maps for dummies!), but the east west streets are named after trees or nuts – so there’s Walnut, Pine, Chestnut and all sorts of other interesting specimens which was quite entertaining!
Thanksgiving in Dover, New Jersey – Thanksgiving was spent in Dover, New Jersey with my Dad’s extended family and was a truly delightful family experience. The spread of food was incredible, so much turkey and homemade cranberry and apricot sauce, lots of vegies cooked all sorts of ways, mash and potatoes, and it all started at about 3pm because no-one eats all morning then you drive late morning to your family’s place (I came from Philly with Aunt Sandy and her husband Mike, driving through Pennsylvania and New Jersey and witnessed the industrial strips of refineries and old factories, the pharmaceutical strip with all the pharma companies and their manufacturing plants and headquarters, and the great industrial machine of the USA that had started in the 1960s, of which some areas are now in decline esp in New Jersey around the old automobile plans that have shut down adn are now offshore) and you eat all afternoon and into the night! It was an extremely interesting experience and many funny stories and interesting people came out of that day which I will never forget. Leaving in the evening by myself back to New York to catch the early morning plane (had to get up at 4:30am the next morning aargh) I was sad to be leaving the States, but I know I will be back…and more exotic things awaited…
And coming into the Thanksgiving season now…I can’t help but be excited for what will be my third Thanksgiving which will now have an international foreigner’s bent to it with turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and probably some Romanian, German, Bosnian, Australian and British sprinkled into it…isn’t that modern America??