Sunday, March 15, 2009

NYC09: Walking Tour - Bowling Green to Schermerhorn Row

Exiting the subway at Bowling Green you are faced with The Sphere: a statue that once stood between the World Trade Center's twin towers. It has been moved to this location, in memory of those who lost their lives during the attack. If one continues south, pushing through all number of walking tours and school groups, they will eventually reach the water front. On a clear day, this location offers an excellent view of the State of Liberty. Temping, and enticing visitors to pay the twelve dollars required for a ferry ride to Ellis Island.

This – was not a clear day. The overcast sky clouded every photo taken, and the statue off in the distance began to sink in to the greys that surronded it – further obscured by the drifting fogs. While there would be no tour of the city's most iconic statue today, the many booths surrounding the area did offer one tempting treat: pretzels.

For years I have craved a real New York street pretzel, coated with mustard. Loving both condiments and carbohydrates I assumed it would be the perfect combination.

It was not. Oh how I failed to take in the American love of salt. Everything in the United States is saltier. Heinze Ketchup is not even recognizable to those who have only supped on it within the Canadian boarders. And for this, I love the delicious American tomato paste. But this pretzel? It was too much. Try as I might to brush it off, there would be no making this twisted breadstick desirable. A somewhat unfortunate revelation.

Leaving the park and walking north on Broadway I came across Arturo DiModica's Charging Bull. Standing as a symbol of the stock market's prosperity I felt it worth of a picture or two. So too, it seemed, had everyone else in the city.

Across the street from the state tables were set up selling miniature versions, clean pictures of the artwork, and other New York City related trinkets. As I attempted to recreate the unobstructed image through my own lens I found myself framing, setting, and then waiting. Over and over again, people walked in front so they could get a picture of themselves with the bull. I understood this desire – and people were lining up. But I too had waited, and with no sign that anyone would pause long enough for me to get a shot off, a plan was hatched.

Manually freezing the settings, I walked up as if I was to be photographed. For once, people waited. Now that I had the stage to myself, I turned and walked backwards. When I had retaken my original position I snapped off a frame only a moment before the statue was rushed by tourists once more.

At the New York Stock market, I had a brief chat with the guards standing outside about hair – their love of mine – and the inevitability of it all falling out.

Over the roar of the midday traffic, haunting music was carried on the breeze. The flutist was a homeless man, camped out under the state of George Washington – a wonderfully painful juxtaposition and contrast to the financial security located all around. There, on wall street, only a dozen meter from the largest American flag I'd seen seen, playing civil war era music, the man sat billowing forth note after ethereal note.

Standing near what was advertised as a submerged sculpture garden – apparently emptied during the colder months, an eight year old Chinese girl came up to me: Dragon! You are a dragon!

Beside her, her sister stood ready to scuttle away on her scooter – but there was no fear, for the girl held up her stuffed Unicorn. Within that stuffed horn, she believed lay the power to smite any enemy. On a bench, not far away, her mother sat giggling. Uttering a quiet growl, I took it upon myself to emulate the dragon that she so willingly sought out. At this, she doubted the power of her plus saviour, and took a step back. Seeing her mother smile, I took it as an invitation to further play the role that had been thrust upon me. Raising my hands over my head, and taking a step forward, I roared once more: the girl shrieked in mock-fear mixed with delight. She ran, looking over her shoulder from an assumed distance of safety. As her sister scooted away, she held up her Unicorn once more in defiance. I was, at least, defeated and forced to continue on my way.

Final stop on this walking tour? The Brooklyn Bridge.

Climbing the stairs at Pier 17, located on the outskirts of the South Street Seaport District one is afforded a beautiful view of the bridge. As I looked out, somewhat able to make out the people walking across its full extension, I was transported to the fictional Marvel Universe. To this moment, I'd imagined the tragic death of Gwen Stacy to be visible only to Peter Parker, Norman Osborn, and Gwen herself. But actually standing in this location I realized that so many others, like myself, would have been able to see the Green Goblin take Spider-Man's girlfriend up to the top of the suspended monolith – only to then watch in horror as she plunged down to the water below. It was here, actually visiting the location, that an extra level of depth and despair was added to the even in question – as is so often the case when visiting in person, those places describe only in text, or seen through the limited scope of a motion picture.

[These events all transpired while following the walking tour on p244 of Fodor's Seen It New York 2008]

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