Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Staten Island Ferry

How many things are truly free in this life? Well at least one remains, The Staten Island Ferry and we took advantage once during the day and again one evening, so we could view the lights of Manhattan. Interestingly enough, we rode on it just a few days before that fateful accident on October 15, 2003, when ten people were killed and seventy one were injured as one of the ferries ran into a dock. It may have been a mere coincidence, but we almost toppled over the edge of the bow when our ferry hit the dock quite hard the day we went. The only thing that kept us from going overboard was a thigh high chain across the bow. It was pretty frightening and we were stunned to hear about the October 15th accident after our return home to California and felt compassion for those touched by this new tragedy in NYC. (As I write this blog, the newest tragedy in Manhattan happened yesterday, Saturday, March 15, 2008, when a large crane fell 19 stories from the top of a high rise under construction to the streets below, crushing a brownstone and damaging other buildings with the loss of life still unnumbered.
Well back to the subject at hand, The Staten Island Ferry. This free ride gave us our first glimpse of the Statue of Libery and Ellis Island in the distance, which gave me a thrill to see an icon of history in person and not just in a book. When we reached Staten Island, we walked about a block and I'm sure there's more to the island, but we headed back to our temporary home, Manhattan!

The Brooklyn Bridge

We had seen the Brooklyn Bridge countless times in movies and documentaries, so we were determined to invest some time and energy in crossing the one mile span by foot. We had recently enjoyed the movie, "Kate and Leopold," (one more of Meg Ryan's movies on my favorites list). It was a beautiful afternoon as we headed over and our destination was the restaurant on the Brooklyn side, under the bridge called "The River Cafe." The walkway is thankfully on a boardwalk above the traffic, so there's no stress about being run over by anyone! The views of Manhattan, the East River and Brooklyn surrounded us as we imagined being there when it was new in 1883, which at that time was the largest suspension bridge in the world! We learned that it took six-hundred workmen 16 years to build this magnificent bridge designed by John A. Roebling and was the first to be built of steel and so far had lasted 120 years! We enjoyed the views and people who passed us and arrived winded, tired and hungry at the front door of the cafe only to be told they had just finished serving lunch and dinner wouldn't be served for another couple of hours. So we enjoyed the gorgeous flowers that filled the foyer, soaking up the ambience. Still hungry, we headed next door to a quaint old house that serves homestyle ice cream and filled our ache with sweets! We strolled through a nearby neighborhood of vintage homes and then decided to take a water taxi back to Manhattan and give our weary feet a rest, which also ended up being a fun way to travel. We departed the taxi near Pier 17, giving us a chance to explore the pier and the South Street Seaport area, showcasing the wide contrast between cobblestoned streets and skyscrapers looming in the background. Oh, how I love New York!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Place We Almost Missed

The Fall of 2003 still left us feeling shaken to the core when we thought about the events on September 11, 2001. We weren't sure we wanted to include "Ground Zero" in our plans to visit NYC. (I think we were afraid we would feel like just one of the curious that chases the fire engine or ambulance when there's a fire or accident). Would it be disrespectful to peer into the gouge in the earth where so many Americans and human beings lost their very lives? We decided not to include it in our itinerary. But, while on our way to see Battery Park, we noticed a large crowd of people a block or two to our right and wondered what the gathering was, so curiousity tempted us after all, as we imagined a special event or movie-making in progress. As we drew closer, we wondered why the crowd was unusually quiet and seemed to be walking around a cyclone fence with the noise of construction equipment coming from the background. We began to see T-shirt vendors with "I Love NYC," and "FDNY," and then it dawned on us that we had stumbled onto "Ground Zero." Two rusty girders formed a cross just over the cyclone fence, and a wave of sorrow swept over me as the enormity of the hole and flashbacks of the newsreels skipped across my brain and heart. It's hard to imagine how many lives were lost or changed in the blink of an eye as two planes hit the buildings that were no longer there. We made our way around the huge block of cyclone fencing and entered a high rise in the World Financial Center, which was an abrupt contrast in all of its shine and glory. We followed our way to a raised walkway, from which we could get a wide view of the massive hole left in the wake of the unthinkable attack. As we looked to our right, there was a building draped in a huge banner with a heart, that read: "The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act, but the size of the heart." I realized that this site also represented all of the outpouring of love and compassion that took place here in the wake of the tragedy. As we came back to the "Cross" girder and looked across the street, we saw a historical looking cemetery with the backside of a St. Paul's Chapel just beyond, a survivor and sign of hope in a sea of destruction. As we rounded the block, we found another banner of hope on the front of the church, which read "Out of the Dust." I have since read that this church was part of the volunteer relief effort in the months following 9/11. Hope remains.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

"Got Mail?"

One morning before leaving our brownstone, I googled the movie "You've Got Mail," on our laptop and found a map of some of the places that were featured in the film. Thus, one of our destinations for the day was Cafe Lalo, where the character Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan, impatiently awaited her mystery email friend, whose online name was "NY152" and to her dismay, her rival in the bookstore business, better known as Joe Fox played by Tom Hanks showed up and plopped himself down in the chair opposite her. As we walked closer to the front of the cafe, there was that famous wrought iron fence that Tom Hanks gave a shake as he recited his lines and a poster in the front window of the scene when Kathleen and Joe sat across from one another at a table for two. Most of the people in the line, which spilled down the stairs and onto the sidewalk were women, and my husband humored me as we joined the line for brunch. The inside of the cafe was decorated in warm inviting wood tones and the glass case displayed mouthwatering pastries that called my name, but I settled on a salad. I began snapping photos with my new camera and I'm sure totally annoyed the group sitting at the next table, as I tried to get a good shot of the wall behind them. From Cafe Lalo, we walked back out to the streets of the Upper West Side and found our way to the 91st Street Garden and found the location of the last scene of the movie, when Kathleen finally finds out who her email buddy truly is. If you haven't seen this movie and love romantic comedies with Meg Ryan, I highly recommend this one!