City of snapshots

Since I was as small as I can remember, my father made watching what he calls the Hollywood “classics”, i.e. his favourites, (the ones that tend to contain either one or both of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) an essential part of my upbringing. So it came as no surprise that our trip to New York City would incorporate as many film locations as possible so as to allow us to soak up the feelings and relive moments of our favourite movies.

Although we ended up in a hauntingly deserted Wall Street rather than the famous Katz’s Delicatessen, home to Meg Ryan’s When Harry Met Sally fake orgasm. We did get the chance to play chopsticks on the ‘Big’ piano, found ourselves doing the early morning Central Park run like Mel Gibson’s mind-speaking women, and dining in Grand Central Station, setting to many a Hollywood climax.

My own cinematic interest has recently (and unashamedly) added Sex and the City to the list, and although we didn’t make the recommended Sex and the City Tour, where, as part of living the city’s glitterati-cum-professional lifestyle you are taken to the girls’ favourite bars and cafes (tasters included), the series did give me yet another backdrop to my idea of the city I was visiting. Carrie’s New York is a city of high-rise steel and glass, cutesy cafes off Central Park, and the constant yet flamboyant stream of being in and out of a taxi – a complete contrast to Di Niro’s disillusioned view from his taxi.

When I got into my first yellow cab of the trip I took in all the sights on offer and went trigger happy with my out-of-fashion SLR, finding absolutely anything the most aesthetically pleasing view. Yet I was surprised to see that the city of my filmic imagination, whilst living up to its array of expectations, was at the same time strangely elusive. It felt like I had been there before. Like a déjà-vu, which made me almost bizarrely nostalgic for phantom memories of the place, memories that really only existed in my imagination.

Despite the overwhelming (genuine?) niceness of the majority of Americans that I passed, I also felt like an alien – or an intruder into a place I recognised but knew didn’t belong to me. And I had to catch it all on camera, as if to prove to myself that all that I knew from all those films and soap operas really had belonged to me, and to keep it alive in my memory.

Of course, there was much to New York that completely blew me away and sights that were previously underestimated in my imagination. The sky-scrapers are HUGE. Coming from a little town in the London commuter belt I’m not used to walking down a street with my head craned back and eyes skyward in order to take in the full view.

There’s something so serene about looking up at these simple yet towering blocks of glass when down below the streets are littered with billboards, TV screens streaming commercials and weather updates, scaffolding, traffic lights, road signs, speeding taxis, bustling tourists and the occasional tramp with a ‘Give Me Beer Please’ sign.

This is the chaotic and claustrophobic scene to be found in the middle of Times Square (nothing like a spacious and sunny square as you might imagine it), that had the deceptively tiny entrance to our 82 floored hotel squeezed in between a neon flashing McDonalds and touristy camera shop (and perhaps a Broadway theatre entrance…it was all so packed together, I can hardly pick out what was what). It was all these surprising contradictions in the city’s layout that caught my camera’s eye, how you would get a dingy little Jewish deli right next to a shimmering tower, or a diminished interior of a wall for some reason standing alone by the New York Stock Exchange.

Take a ferry out to one of the islands and look behind you, or go up to the top of the Rockefeller Centre and look down, and the high-rise / low-scum of the city looks like a peaceful game of metallic tetrus or a plastic lego land that you can pick up and play with or just take a photo of.


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