City Chronicles from US: First Impressions of New York

By: Niyanta Muku – a new New Yorker

The Manhattan Skyline just before sunset

It felt like an ideal welcome to a first timer, with the entire city lit up – emphasizing streets, landmarks, bridges, waterways – and my eyes kept wandering in all directions from the airplane window to catch the first glimpse of New York! A city that never sleeps!

New York, for any traveller has always been something of an enigma. I had all sorts of emotions and curiosities creeping within me as I stepped off the plane.  However, the hour long wait to clear immigration managed to calm me down. I saw people from myriad corners of world eager to enter New York. Unlike my experience with the immigration officers at home, the American officers came across as shrewd and witty who could turn away a visitor on a mere ounce of a suspicion. Well, having passed the immigration hurdle, garnering the strength to find out and collect luggage after an 18 hour journey felt like another uphill task. The massive security ensures that no traveller whiles away time at the airport, there are guards gazing around at people at all corners. What are they afraid of, one wonders! As a matter of fact if your luggage lies unattended while you wait for your chance in serpentine immigration check lanes, one is unlikely to find it around! Guess what – it gets towed away to lost and found rooms within minutes.

The NY yellow taxi with the U.S. postal building forming the backdrop

Bracing the icy winds of a December night, I was all set for my first leg of tour of the city in the classic yellow taxi that is symbolic of the Big Apple. My better half prepared me to withstand the cold by listing out dos and don’ts during the taxi drive. And while he was trying to ensure  that I don’t become a popsicle in the severe cold, I was least attentive as my eyes and ears were all focused on the views framed by the taxi window. The fervor of Christmas could be felt and seen  everywhere.

Came dawn, and the bright sunshine geared me up for my first trip into the central island of the city called Manhattan. I am sure Manhattan brings many images to people’s minds, but especially to an urban designer having read William H Whyte’s The Social life of small Urban Places, The image of the city by Kevin Lynch, Delirious New York by Rem Koolhas and Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Midtown Manhattan street view

The NY winters make it a paradise for lovers. With its biting cold, howling winds, the weather does not play a deterrent villain; instead a cupid. People put on warm clothes and embrace the warmth and love of the city.  It is a perfectly apt season for snuggling, cuddling, romance and holding hands.

I am astounded and amazed at the organization and management of the city. I stop by on the footpath, yes you heard me right – the pathway meant for the pedestrians  seems wider than the roads of the grid network– and the next moment I am one of them (the New Yorkers) on the streets. With long, slender glass buildings forming perfect edges to each block and defining each street, it is incredible urban design that leaves many impressions. The rush on the streets of Manhattan is crazy, and no one really bothers whether you hold your partner, kiss your girl/man or dance and sing on its pathways. I guess the sheer size and width of the pathway allows for such diverse activities and reinstates the dominance of pedestrians and their high priority on the streets of NY. My eyes catch some glamour and glitter along the 8th Avenue and I know it has to be the Times Square. The madness and energy at this junction of the city is magnificent – from the Broadway musicals to the theatres, to artists thronging and performing street gigs or for a mere photo op, at Times Square is spectacular.

At Times Square

New York is overwhelming but it makes one very comfortable in its public space – extremely friendly and helpful people are always around to guide you and would not hesitate in giving the best advice. It’s a city where one doesn’t get lost or need a tour guide – every street and every avenue has a sign board and memorable landmark buildings. In fact the best way to explore NY is by roaming this ‘wonderban’ land it on foot- it’s an adventurous journey. With Christmas around the corner, Bryant Park on corner of 42nd street and 6th Avenue by New York Public library, one in many public places in the heart of Manhattan has been turned into a flea market laid around a temporary skating rink that has people of all age groups on skates and in love with each other (reminding one of the movie – Serendipity). The expression of love amongst people is so evident on the streets and in public places in NY, that it makes me wonder if this warmth and the freedom to love is what keeps teasing,  and other unwanted activities at bay.

Skating Rink at Rockefeller Centre

The next thing that I cannot resist sharing with my readers is the sense of fashion, style and glamour that flows on the streets, in cafes, in shops and everywhere around the city. To see the women and men dressed so nattily – some prim and proper and others casual yet chic – it seems as if  they have been groomed in fashion since childhood! Yes, and we have Manhattan’s much talked about Fifth avenue – it boasts of the best of high street fashion brands, that attract customers that drive in a chauffeured limos. The stores are well decorated and designed with such artistic proficiency that makes this avenue an elite yet exciting street. This backdrop has decorated the narratives of many English classic movies (not to mention Yash Raj productions).

At the Central Park

Everything around looks just so orderly and well-laid out. This decorum infects any outsider visiting NY immediately as if compelling to follow the lay-out – such is the magic and pulse of this place. NY is a unique melting pot of myriad cultures, a lot of avenues with distinct characters to explore, umpteen cafes, restaurants, confectionaries and their distinct delicacies to relish and tingle the taste buds. This place has so much to offer and in return it ensures that citizens, people and visitors contribute their bit which makes it together a successful place.

The best at 5th Avenue

The bare trees of the Central Park along its vistas and Victorian style bridges portray a picturesque scene – I traverse the winding streets and find chariots being drawn, kids playing, couples cuddling, teenagers walking, a violin melody filling the air, and budding painters selling portraits of eminent American figures.

One word to describe myself in NY – ‘Mesmerized’!

2-manhatta-skyline-from-new-jersey-on-a-december-nightManhattan skyline on a December night from New Jersey

(All photos by the author taken in December 2016 and January 2017)

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