Sharing a really Big Apple

Hilary and the New York City store with lots of handbags for sale. - Ursula Maxwell-Lewis photo
Hilary and the New York City store with lots of handbags for sale.
— image credit: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis photo

I’m in New York with my youngest daughter, Hilary. She flew in from Calgary. I arrived from Seattle. We’re making a 3-day Mom and Daughter Getaway before her business meetings next week. A United Airlines ticket I won enables me to zip to the Big Apple for the first time in 30 years.

“You’ll need a cardigan, young lady!” Q calls across Hoboken’s W Hotel lobby. “It’s cool out there this morning!” Quimby fields queries, tour bookings, and clearly monitors the weather from behind a computer next to a paperweight declaring: WHATEVER. WHEREVER.

Hoboken, a $2 and 15-minute subway ride from its frenetic neighbour New York City, was once home to Frank Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes, and a colleague’s recommendation, influenced our choice of location.

We’ve been invited to join a Big Onion Walking Tour, Immigrant New York, through the multi-ethnic Lower East Side. Our subway stop is Ground Zero. I have to admit, seeing the sign chilled me.

Christina, our art history graduate guide, rallies our small group at City Hall corner.

For the next two hours our fast-paced crash course on the founding Dutch, Italian, Irish and Jewish history, civics and architecture generates a strangely satisfying feeling in us. It’s a good framework for the balance of our mini-holiday.

One less-travelled block – the African Burial Ground at 290 Broadway - makes a particular impact.

During an excavation some years ago, workers stumbled upon the skeletal remains of over 400 men, women and children. Research revealed an unmarked 17th and 18th century 6.6 acre burial ground for free and enslaved Africans. It had been specifically located outside the boundaries of what had then been the New Amsterdam settlement (now New York City). Decades of development and landfill had camouflaged the tragic cemetery with the shameful history.

Today, thanks to African American community, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and other partners, the long gone and almost forgotten people rest in dignity and with honour. “Even though we can’t call their names, we know them,” said Dean Bernard L. Richardson during the re-interment ceremony.

Solemnly and silently we walk, reading the stones. Child, woman , man …and so on. The day is grey. Sounds of the great city that once enslaved these nearly forgotten people, rumbles in the distance. Wreaths from recent 20th anniversary site celebrations still bloom on the nearby lawn. We are moved; glad we came.

On the outskirts of Chinatown our route includes Foley Square (more recently an Occupy Wall Street site). Now surrounded by noted civic buildings, five bronze medallions set into the sidewalk tell assorted tales. Located over Collect Pond, the original city fresh water source site, this is also the notorious Five Points gangland neighbourhood. In 1811 the pond, which had become polluted and suspected of triggering typhus and cholera outbreaks, was drained and filled in.

The rest of day we explore Little Italy. Hilary the bag and scarf aficionado is delighted to spy ’s reaction when we spy a shop proclaiming 1,000 bags. Bonus! Endless assortment of $5 scarves! Hilary asks for a specific brand name bag.

The cryptic response? “Knock on the mirror at the back.”

Like a couple of bad actors, we comply. A door swings open…revealing an Aladdin’s cave of bags. A lone good-humored guy ‘adjusting’ the stash, waves us in. On departure he bags our choice, includes a penciled price for the front desk, whiling admitting another surprised shopper.

Day two means test-driving our New York CityPASS. Reputed to save 50% on major attraction tickets, we head for the Empire State Building. Despite having our tickets the lines seem endless, but they move steadily along. Despite taking over an hour to get to the top we admire the view, check out the landmarks and photograph ourselves and each other with the city spread out behind us.  I note the difference – in the city and myself - from my last trip with friends in 1969. What a delight to be able to share it again with my daughter.

I drag her off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (another CityPASS coupon). We detour through Central Park admiring children sailing little boats, ducks, mimes and music. She wants to walk the Brooklyn Bridge. We join the throngs, admire the structure, and enjoy just ‘being there together”.  Trump Tower is on her list. Rockefeller Centre is on mine (again).

Her request for Grand Central Station yields a delightful surprise for us both. “Through My Window”, a solo exhibition by Korean photographer AHAE, enchants us both. Displayed in the Vanderbilt Hall are some of the one million photographs taken from his window during one year. Capturing daily details of nature, colour, textures and wildlife focuses our attention and inspires respect.

On the Sunday Hilary waves me off to La Guardia before she heads for the Hoboken subway enroute to the Circle Line Cruise it use another New York CityPASS coupon. I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline from the Staten Island ferry in the past, but still envy her the sunny afternoon and great shots she captures as I jet back to Seattle.

We wanted to be a part of it, New York, New York…and we were. Magical memories.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a travel writer, photographer and a founding director of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Follow her on Twitter @YouTravel

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