A week in Manhattan…

Yes, I agree that is something many a person dreams of doing, and we enjoyed it last week. In a slightly different fashion, I must say, more as a New Yorker…The intention was to drop our younger son off at NYU Medical School, where he will spend his next few years.

The SUV was all loaded up and primed for the long drive to the big apple, and we set out in the wee hours of the morning, driving through the scenic North Carolinian roads through to Virginia and then through the choked roads of Washington DC and Baltimore to Delaware, sidestepping Philadelphia and into New Jersey before the final push to Manhattan. Until then it was just like any other drive, occasionally stopping at roadside rest places and marveling at the overall efficient set up in this country. The weather held up, no rains to speak of and it was not terribly hot.

The toll booths opened up with a vengeance once we reached New Jersey and remained so till we crossed Lincoln tunnel and got into Manhattan New York, it was one following the other, exhorting people to cough up dollars to keep up the infrastructure in better shape. Finally we were in Manhattan, the land of skyscrapers. Well, Manhattan New York, perhaps the wealthiest and most densely populated areas of US is home to some 1.6million people (used to be 2.3 million in 1910!), and I could not help but think of another city that would rival it in population density and be so far off in scale, Istanbul which has over 14 million people (officially – but many more million unofficially). It appears that in the morning hours the population here swells to 4 million!!

Driving in Manhattan requires all your skills and is guaranteed to ensure that all your systems are tested to their limits, be it your sense of movement, sight, sixth sense, reflexes or patience, or for that matter your vocabulary of expletives. Driving in New York is an art and I managed to get through it for three days before I parked the car for good, till our return morning. The cab drivers of New York use their horns at will, cut in and out in front of you, and are mostly from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. Perhaps many of them were auto rickshaw drivers back home, they handle cars like the autos of India, driving you, the person trying to stick to the rules purely out of fear of getting caught by a traffic cop, mad. I am sure I lost a few thousand hairs from my thinning and receding hairline after these two days, when we drove around to buy a few things for my son’s room and stay. But it gave me a good jerk out of our sedate life here, for New York is fast, and gets your adrenaline going, be it the people, the advertisement signs, the huge buildings or action on and off the streets….or those beautiful legs you see so often crossing the street and eliciting from the tired driver a jolt of realization, widening of eyes, opening of the lips to take in a deep breath and finally as it is already late, a hard jamming of the brakes..

Strange, isn’t it that the entire area belonged to the Dutch East India Company, once upon a time, who purchased it from the Indians for $24, and named the place New Amsterdam. Some 40 years later the British took it over from the Dutch, and named it New York, but the Dutch regained it 10 years later and renamed it as New Orange, but could hold it only for a year, before it permanently became British property. Now people will wonder - how did a city named new orange become the big apple? Contradicting answers come up, one stating that it was synonymous with horse races where the prizes were called apples and the prize at New York was very big, hence the big apple. Another reason is related to music & show business, whose proprietors and enthusiasts mentioned that the best was in New York. Quoting Cross, An old saying in show business was "There are many apples on the tree, but only one Big Apple." New York City being the premier place to perform was referred to as the Big Apple. And finally apples were used to lure visitors and the red apple provided a cheery image of the city. A detailed explanation can be seen in Heather Cross’s article linked here.  But then again, the orange was forgotten and as you see, we were now going around the big apple, no, not really, but literally cris-crossing the streets and avenues, which after some getting used to is pretty straight forward.

I have been to New York many times, but this was the first time as a tourist, after the terrible 9/11 tragedy. The people looked as busy as they always did and the hope and enthusiasm was clear on their faces. This time we stayed with my cousin at the upper West side just off central park, off the beaten tourist track so to say, and saw the city in a different light. After a busy couple of days where my eyes were the happiest seeing all those lovely women in short skirts and gorgeous legs, I parked the car for the next few days to see them again from ground level. After that the metro card was our means to enter the bowels of the city, going back and forth and to start the sightseeing part on the hop on hop off bus and the ferries to the islands like the Liberty Island. One would be amused to see the hundreds of halal sandwich wagons serving kebabs for lunch competing with hotdog vans and the such to feed the thousands who descend from the many tall buildings to terra firma for lunch (seems there are close to 4,000 such vendors!). And that brings a question, how come this small island of 23 sq km supports the many million tons of steel and concrete of the many hundred sky scrapers that dot its skyline? It seems that the entire island has a hard bedrock foundation and this helps.

And so we went back and forth, seeing NYC, Brooklyn, Bronx and traversing the three parts of Manhattan namely downtown, uptown and mid town. It would not be nice to get into those in too much detail or this will look like a tourist brochure, so I will desist.

For a upwardly mobile New Yorker, the upper Westside has much to offer, great restaurants, exercise places and of course the meticulously man made and magnificent green central park where you enjoy some peace and quiet in the middle of the hustle bustle and the geometric vertical architectural lines and bright lights of the city. To enjoy it all you have to walk and walk till you burn your soles off your feet, and it is when you do it that you understand how all those NY girls maintain their great shape. Not to forget the many hundred or more yoga and fitness places…. The place is full of mainstream clothing and luxury goods shops, but in between them is the usual grocer and the baker sustaining normal life. You would of course miss the bigger shops you see in other US towns like Target or Walmart and they can be accessed only in the farther neighborhoods. By and far, most depend on the subway or the bus service and people shirk driving, not because of the risk, but due to the absolute lack of parking space. It took me ages to understand what some parking signs meant with their cryptic lettering.

You see a lot of our brethren in New York, walking around purposefully, and often at the eating joints such as Saravana Bhava (though our visit to the establishment at the Westside was disappointing, both the food and the high and mighty attitude the Indian staff), or the many others at Curry Hill at Lexington Ave. We did try many other cuisines, and the Moroccan Shale Lounge was fascinating and can be termed as the darkest ambience I have ever dined in, having to really put my eyes to test to figure out what was going on. The Indian places have finally got on the right formula, they have all got hold of Kosher certificates and advertise so, to get the Jewish community to sample their fares, and from what I saw, they seem to have succeeded eminently. It was fun seeing the avuncular Jewish retiree eating a dosa with his fingers, followed by sambar rice.

As many would agree, it is indeed a fascinating place and if you have the money, is the right place to buy an apartment and spend the summer. Watching people can be so much fun, you would see any nationality, creed, color and religion mind their business without a care. Our people seem settled in well, we even saw a petite desi girl in the elevator with a small dog in her hand, who remarked that she was having a tough time ensuring that she (the dog) did not pick up bad manners from the other dogs of the building.. yeah!...looks like they have adapted and settled.

The big apple is indeed a great place to visit, a place that was once briefly the capital of USA, where if it can be believed, the reserve bank has a vault 80 feet below which holds close to 25% of the words gold bullion, a place where five million people ride over 800 odd miles of subway tracks, and a city which has over 36% non US born people!! Another fun fact - The musicians who perform in the NYC Subway system go through a competitive audition process. Some of the subway musicians have also played at Carnegie Hall…Well, I heard some, and I can say they are good, but I am not too sure about the statement above, though. Finally as it is said, New York's Yellow Cabs are yellow (NY has close to 13,000 cabs, not to mention increasing numbers of cycle rickshaws and horse carts near the tourist attractions!!) because John Hertz, the company's founder, learned from a study that yellow was the easiest color for the eye to spot. Well, it is certainly an interesting place if 50 million international visitors visit it to spend 30 billion dollars while there!!

Like many others, we went up the Empire state building and had a chance to see the Olympics triple gold medalist Alyson Felix up there on ‘top of the world’. We passed by the freedom tower which is rising up to eminence, near ground zero and we passed by Brooklyn where Barbara Streisand was born. But close to where we lived was the hallowed place (Dakota Bdg) where the still alive but imprisoned Chapman shot to death the Beatles legend John Lennon. And we went by the Wall street a few times not to mention seeing a trapeze school on atop a building.

It was soon time for the long drive back, but that was after attending our son’s white coat ceremony at NYU and listening to the Dean Bob Grossman and other speakers like David Oshinsky at the event. It was fascinating to listen to the story of NYU’s Jonas Salk, his field trials for the polio vaccine and his hostile relationship with the other polio vaccine inventor Albert Sabin. Perhaps I will write some day about that..

Back home, and the usual routines, but with those fond memories of the big apple…

And oh, yes, got featured in Deccan chronicle..In search of an adventure

Click Link for the story..and Thank you Cris, for that…

P.S Some people asked us what a white coat ceremony is all about. Here is how the NYU defines it

The White Coat Ceremony signifies the end of Orientation and the beginning of your career as a medical student. This ceremony creates a psychological, intellectual, and ethical contract for the profession and promotes empathy in the practice of medicine from the very start of medical training. During the ceremony, you will be brought to the stage and “cloaked” in your first white coat by one of eight specially selected faculty members, in the presence of family, friends, and colleagues. Together as a class, you will take an oath similar to the Hippocratic oath, which stresses the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship and the importance of compassion in medicine


Jina said…
Thanks for the good read.
It was almost as if I was there in NY.
And a big congrats to your son. I know how big a deal white coat ceremony is (thanks to working in the so called largest med center in the world).
First, congrats to your son on his admission to the medical school in NY.

Very nice piece, Maddy. I too like going to New York and being a part of the bustling life there. The grid pattern of the roads fitted by the Dutch never ceases to amaze me.

Also, good to see the nice piece in the DC. you both look delightful in that picture.
harimohan said…
Congrats to ur son for getting into that white coat .his grandpa wud be happy
tks for taking us the big apple
and DC article and foto good
Happy Kitten said…
First of all, congrats to your son... the aspiring doctor in your family and congrats to you for featuring in the Deccan Chronicle.

It was good reading about NY and to know that it originally belonged to the East India company.
Happy Kitten said…
Came back after reading Deccan Chronicle.. You both look dashing! Best wishes and may we readers get to read many more interesting posts from you. Regards to your lovely wife Shoba. My elder sister too is named Shoba.
Maddy said…
Thanks Jina..
long time no hear - hope all is well..
Maddy said…
thanks raji..
Oh yes, we enjoyed Ny, though it was particluarly tough driving around..the weather was nice too
and thanks, about the article comment as well
Maddy said…
thnaks hari.
yup, he is going to see what you saw and see all these years!!
Maddy said…
Thanks HK..
the detailed history of NY is very interesting actually, but then again every city has a colorful history, even Bombay, Madras & calcutta due to the colorful people who lived there!!
will pass on comments to shoba too..
I am scared. I love visiting the Kerala countryside. In a small village with a beautiful Bhadrakali temple (North Vypin) I hunted for the traditional "Murukkan" shop and got it. It was a thrill too. My blessings to your son.
Maddy said…
Thanks PNS...
oru murukkan nokatte - where else can you order it like that!!!