An italian gentleman in New York - 03 June 2007

My last treat before next month departure: a short trip to New York to spend Bank Holiday (Memorial Day) with my good friend Ian, in Manhattan.

Once upon a time in New York.

Walking in NYThe Deardos Yeah, I know: a weekend to visit New York seems like an impossible task. Since Ian lived already in the best of the 5 boroughs (or at least the most known), Manhattan , we decided to simply stay in the area and avoid crossing any bridge to see the Bronx , Brooklyn , Queens or Staten Island .

Probably because the history and buildings of New York are so well documented in films and, unlike Rome for example, squeezed in the past 2-3 centuries, it is very easy to see something, a monument, a building, a church, that reminds a certain scene in a film. The feeling is to walk inside a massive film set, only with real people. And real smell of manure everywhere, used to fertilize the flowers in the numerous stalls and the rare parks.

After a quick breakfast me, Ian and Sarah took a cheap cab, destination Battery Park . The taxi was so cheap that probably I took more cabs in two days in NY than in 6 years in London.

At Battery Park we were hoping to get on a ferry and travel to Ellis and Liberty Island , and to see the Statue of Liberty . Unfortunately it was the Memorial Day weekend, and the queue outside the free ferry was long at least a mile. This meant around 2 and half hours of wait.
I'm not a guy who likes to queue longer than 5 minutes, so we opted to buy some tickets for the tour around the islands.

Wall StreetFinancial DistrictStock Exchange

We just missed the last boat so, just to pass some time, Ian took me to the financial district and to Wall Street , where the nearby NY Stock Exchange pumps (and sometimes sucks) all the money in the world economy. Pretty impressive.

I was impressed at the local Starbucks too, totally different from the European version. They had proper, fresh sandwiched, not those triangular things that people love so much in England. The choice of gay salads was big too, but, since in the few hours spent in the city I saw as many gays as in any Soho gay carnival, probably it's just normality.

The hour trip with the alternative ferry was a great idea.
Sure, we didn't touch any of the actual islands and we spent all our time on the boat, but the guide was great and managed to show us the relevance of the history of New York in the world over the years.

New York SkylineEllis IslandRecent history (the empty gap left in the skyline after 9/11) mixed with old history (how the Dutch got their asses kicked by English, and how the English got their asses kicked even more by the immigrants) and there was something emotional for everyone. Just think of Ellis Island. Just 150 years ago millions of people moved to the New World and walked their first American steps through that small piece of land.

They would arrive after a miserable and long trip in a boat, see the statue of liberty and realize that maybe there was hope after all. The Italian part of Ian's family, his great grandparent, arrived through those doors. And, after a visit on the Ellis Island registry, I was stunned to realize how many Olgiatis moved there in the early 900.

Me and the statue of libertyThe Statue of LibertyIan and Sarah

As soon as we got closer to the Statue of Liberty, the French lady that for so many years has been not just the symbol of New York, but the symbol of a whole country, the guide stopped to talk to let us admire it, take pictures with it and enjoy her might presence in silence. It was weird to see all the tourists around me suddenly shutting up.

After reaching the Brooklyn bridge (another fantastic sight to enjoy), we turned around to go back at the Pier, not far from the Vietnam Veterans Piazza.

The Brooklyn BridgeGround ZeroThe rest of the day was spent walking around downtown. The Irish famine centre (Ian's other half of the family comes from Irish immigrants) was an unusual monument squeezed between two giant building: a gentle green hill with Irish grass and flowers.

When, after a great gelato break, we approached Ground Zero , I was expecting a giant hole, like the one I saw so many times on magazines and TV programs. I didn't realize how massive it was. The area (they are rebuilding a giant tower, 1776 feet high) is just immense. 50000 people worked daily in those two buildings, and it's probably a miracle that "only" 2973 died.
But damn seeing that giant hole is something.

We walked around it, and we cut across Tribeca and Chinatown to reach the Brooklyn Bridge. This was probably the thing that I loved the most. It was insanely high compared to the traffic, and insanely long compared to the average bridges that I cross everyday on my way to work. But it was just fantastic, like something coming out of my childhood memories (Brooklyn gum was a brand of chewing gums well known in Italy, and they use the bridge as a logo). We walked on it, and turned around before reaching Brooklyn.

Walking on the BridgeOlaf and IanAfter a quick rest at home, the DeArdo's took me to Lombardi's , the first pizzeria in the middle of Manhattan's Little Italy.
Yes, I know, the Italians moved a long time ago to the Bronx, where they started another Little Italy.
But this is where all started. The mob, the mafia, the films and all the stereotypes about Italian Americans (Sopranos, anyone?).
Lombardi's, thanks to some grandpa law, is the only place where you can get a pizza cooked on charcoal. It's illegal in almost all the European countries, and in America.
The pizza was, well, different. The past was soft but crunchy at the same time, and the tomatoes for once tasted like real tomatoes.

Olaf in little ItalyBuying Funnel CakeAfter the pizza we spent some time walking in Little Italy , surrounded by some sort of South Italian bloc party. We had some funnel cake and some drinks (at the Mulberry Street bar ) before walking back home, ready for the next day.

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