Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ayyy, NY!

New York cannot be stopped! If the first day this monster-turned-city had me a bit scared, today, with all the respect it deserves, I feel I’m losing the fear I had towards it. Every place is amazing, every person is a character and every subway station is an underworld completely unknown to me. Yes, I’ve been on subways before, of course, like everyone else: but this subway, with its 8000 lines and the different aspects each one has is to me, hallucinatory. I’m accustomed to the subway in my city, subtle and tidy, small and prudish. In New York’s subway, people work concentrated on their computers, Latin-sounding bands play their music (and receive money only from Latinos), some eat and some sleep… it’s universal.

For today I had planned taking two urban tours. I’ve never taken tours before and my only experience with them was when I was working in Chile’s National Fine Arts Museum, where I had to guide on a few of them. I always felt that I didn’t have enough talent to take them on as a guide, and today my feeling all became clear. Peter Laskowich, the guide, is a real master. He managed to keep around twenty people following him almost jogging through Grand Central Neighborhood in rainy weather. Even though I didn’t understand everything he said, I surely passed through the emotional states he wanted us to go through: I became highly emotional, traveled to Woody Allen’s films among others (I couldn’t help getting out a few times), and began to fall in love with Manhattan, a place I sincerely thought wouldn’t move me. Behind that monster there’s a soul, a spirit, beauty in every corner, in every horizontal and vertical view. This city’s built for each and every one of its inhabitants: it’s tidy and respectful, and not only with people and animals, but also with itself. Peter had a phrase for it, “color, line, texture and style”; Manhattan is built under this idea, respect towards itself, its own environment, its past and the great geniuses that began to lift skyscrapers in an articulated and perfect form, the sidewalks, the streets and the neighbors next door. The new buildings did not waste their time being overly creative or by having an extravagant architecture: they kept on to the what was there (related to Peter’s phrase) and used it as a base for a unique urban structure, where every gesture of madness is subtle and smart.

Afterwards I began my own tour, for Mr. Laskowich was not there anymore, and it was time to try to find out where I was standing. I began walking under intuition, going ahead then going back a few blocks until I found to street numbers that crossed and seemed familiar. I then asked a man that works in a kiosk (who looked clearly Latin American) where I had to go: East of West? (with my hands, of course). He pointed towards the right way, and I began to walk through 42nd with 1st until 12th: my destination, Circle Line Tour. I of course passed by Times Square before getting there, obtaining a 200 kilometer smile. I want to go back when it stops raining (though for a New Yorker this rain must be just a drizzle for their May flowers), so I can get the typical photo everyone who’s come to New York has in their living room. Why wouldn’t I?

The Circle Line Tour is by far the most classic existing tour, from the people who take it to the captain that guides it. But how would I get to meet Lady Liberty without it? Impossible (I think). Once immersed in the experience I loved it, really enjoyed it. Every view of the city is spectacular, and I sure would’ve liked to have come 10 years ago. It’s a very intense city from the inside and quite contemplative from the outside, and Lady Liberty is the work of a genius. I became very excited when I say her and got out with all the tourists to get wet and take photos. It’s quite impressive to be in front of an image I’ve seen millions of times through photographs, reproductions and artwork. I remembered the “Cream” book, which has a Lady Liberty dressed as a Muslim woman, as well as a photograph by Patricia Ossa, a Chilean artist that posed with Lady Liberty when I was a little girl. That was probably the first time I saw the image, and today, a cloudy stormy day, I renewed the image in my head by constructing my own.

After seeing the city from a wide view, her perfectly constructed bridges and getting emotional over the greatness of a small city, I went back to the reality of not knowing “where I was standing”. It was strange, but I came out of the tour with a sense of inner security I thought I’d have more trouble obtaining In any case I was soon visited by the non first world country in me, getting stressed over the fact that I was far from my dreamed apartment and that I had to take the subway to get back home. I walked until 8th with 42nd, among theatres, lights and lots of people. Then I went down to the subway, where there were more lines than my head could understand at the moment and more people wearing earphones than I could handle. It was then where I was confronted with a double dilemma: Where do I go? Who do I ask? I began my mission by asking a young lady who looked like one of those persons that know it all. She gave me the instructions, but when I got to where she told me it didn’t seem to be the right place. Asking again, I got another different piece of information, so it became clear to me that I urgently needed a third view as to conciliate the precious. Bingo, it worked! So I began walking and when I seemingly was at the right place I couldn’t find the letters nor the numbers I needed. I thought I was going to begin sweating and that it was maybe a better idea to run back to the streets and walk home no matter what when I see a man without headphones. He was in a bit of a hurry but he managed to give me the information I needed, which he didn’t quite know about at the beginning. After his instructions I decided to get into the subway and not ask for any more opinions, I knew my number and I only had to take the train. Once in the train, understanding the language better, I began to feel very happy. Then outside the subway it felt very calm, after which I went to buy my very first beer in New York, which I now enjoy along my always faithful and easy-to-comprehend Mac.

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