Keeping up with the Jones in the town of Newport was serious business during the era of the industrial barons of America’s Gilded Age from the 1880’s to the early 20th century. It was the playground of the wealthy such as the Vanderbilts and Astors who all built elaborate and opulent mansions trying to outdo each other. It was a fantastic center of Victorian extravagance in architecture and social competition of multi-millionaires. The fantastically elaborate mansions built along Bellevue Avenue was conspicuous consumption at its best.
In fact the term “conspicuous consumption” was first used by Thorstein Veblen in 1899 in his book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class” after he visited Newport and I can see why.
As we drove along the oceanic scenic route we passed beautiful large mansions and home with immaculately kept gardens, many with magnificent views of the ocean. Not only are the homes magnificent but the locations are truly beautiful, the natural seaside views are picture book like.
We walked along the Cliff Walkway, a public access pathway which combines the natural beauty of the Newport shoreline with the architectural history of Newport’s age. We passed several magnificent mansions some of which are now historical tourist attractions but most private residences. The cliff walk was started in about 1880, it has gone through many disputes over access, repairs due to hurricanes and erosion but it is delightful.
We headed north to the Hudson River Valley to enjoy the fall colours of New York State before tackling New York City. We enjoyed the vistas of the river valley and mountains, but it was too cold to linger so we decided it was time to head for New York.
We arrived in New Jersey where we planned to camp while visiting NY city. As I stood on the banks of the Hudson River and gazed across the expanse of water I wondered what it would feel like to be back in NY City after 10 years. A lot has happened to NY since we last visited. On my first visit to NY I had loved the city, the bustle and excitement I wondered if I would feel the same. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then and I have changed and so has New York City.
We headed first for the Statue of Liberty and were surprised that before boarding the ferry we were required to go through a security check. Our first sign of how NYC had changed since we were here before 9/11.
We didn’t make it up the statue as we had hoped since our ferried arrived at 15:31 and the entrance into the actual statue closes at 15:30, a minute before the ferry filled with tourists arrived. Frustrated people had to be contended to wander around the base of the statue and enjoy the view of NYC from there.
The train from New Jersey arrives at the WTC, the site of the devastating 9/11 tragedy and now a scene of busy construction with work crew, cranes, cement mixers, more security fences and police presence everywhere. On the 2nd floor of the Financial Centre across the road people stand in silence and watch the construction work taking place down below in the site.
There is a WTC information centre a little room with a few memorabilia on display, books and souvenirs for sale and information on the new buildings and the memorial pools being built. It is packed with tourists, not much is said I am sure most like me were remembering what they were doing and where they were when the planes hit the towers. There is a feeling of sadness in the air and of the freedom and liberty that appears to now have been lost in NYC. The Statue of Liberty now seems to be a historical reminder of what once was in this amazing city.
We head north and pass the iron cross from the 9/11 site that was in so many photos of the site. It is now in a ‘temporary location” hanging from the side of a building. Below it a scruffy man stands with his little posters advertising the paranormal event that is going to take place on October 31st at the site of the controversial mosque and Islamic Center which the Muslims want to build. I chat to him and ask him his thoughts and where the site actually is. He tells us and we walk another 2 blocks to the site. It is easily recognizeable as it is cordoned off and has a policeman and police car are outside. We asked the police if this is the site, and he confirms it is. We walk to the end of the block to the Amish food store and stop in for something to drink life goes on in NYC but already we are sensing the edginess of the people.
Central Park on Manhattan created in 1858, is the city’s backyard and it was busy, folks jogging or out walking their dogs. Tourists snap photos and hawkers sell their goods, and the hot dog stands are doing good business.
We arrived at the Guggenheim Museum which has one of the world’s finest collections of modern and contemporary art. The building itself is perhaps the museums greatest masterpiece designed by Frank Lloyd Wright it looks like a giant white shell. When visiting Frank Lloyds Wrights home in Taliesin we saw the actual giant white shell in his study that he used to inspire him when designing this museum.
There was a special exhibition “Chaos and Classicism Art in France, Italy and Germany 1918-1936” illustrating how art was impacted between WW1 and WWII. It was fascinating but also fascinating was the special competition the museum is holding of videos from YouTube. They are having a competition and the 25 final productions are on show in the museum. They are all terrific and to us a reminder how old we are getting as we watch what the younger generation can create with modern technology it is remarkable. There is a Canadian finalist and we have no doubt that it is the best so hope it wins it is called “I met the Walrus”. The finalists can also be seen on YouTube look for the Canadian finalist.
Afterwards we stop at the Church of Heavenly Rest built in 1929 to have a rest. The Church is selling food and drinks and we buy what seems to be the oldest sandwich in NYC, the bread was so stale it was hard. Oh well when one is hungry anything tastes ok as the Chinese proverb says, “well fed people have many problems, hungry people have only one.”
We actually saw many people begging in the streets and on the subways. All with their own story, a man with HIV, another recently released from prison, some with disabilities one even with a poster which read, “Need money for Weed.”
Times Square is an assault on ones senses. It is bustling, vibrant, noisy and edgy with millions of people and thousands of yellow cabs all trying to get to somewhere else.
It should come as no surprise then that I would be approached in Times Square and asked if I would agree to be interviewed for an upcoming show on Dr Oz, anything can happen in NYC.
“Depends on the questions,” I replied.
“Hey bring the camera here,” the interviewer told the camera man and crew; the show was about to begin.
The questions of course were very personal and Tom and I had fun answering them and even the interviewer and crew were all laughing. Got to make sure we both have the same answers to the questions. They fired questions at us and we fired back the answers. We don’t know if we will be included in the show but if we are you might learn more than you would like to know about us.
When walking to Time Squares we wondered about the hundreds of police hanging around, police on horses, squad cars and trucks everywhere with barricades going up along 7th Ave. Then they started arriving men and women in the thousands, holding placards, wearing orange T shirts we had been caught up in a union solidarity rally with the guest speaker Leah Walesa himself. I was squeezing myself through the crowd to get to the front, Tom yelling at me to keep behind the barriers, “You can’t go there it is only for the Union workers” he yelled over the crowd. “I belong to a union” I yelled back as I disappeared into the masses. Then Tom was out of sight and I was in the middle of the rally. It was fantastic and I had memories of our days of student protests and rallies against apartheid in South Africa, except this time I was not worried about getting tear gassed or arrested. I just wanted to see and hear the man who won a Nobel peace prize Leah Walesa himself.
At the Rockefeller center we watched the skaters on the ice, already an ice skating rink a definite sign that winter was well on its way.
From the marina shore at Battery Park we could see New Jersey where we were camping. We sat and watched the sunset over the Hudson River and pondered all we had seen and experienced in NYC. It was time to leave and continue our journey south.