New York on Foot

by Kiko Matsing

Bryant Park Rockefeller Grand Central

“The best way to see New York is on foot,” my granduncle tells me as we walked through Central Park. Walk indeed I did for the past four days that both my feet blistered. I had strolled through Battery Park, Wall Street, South Street, Broadway and Times Square, having gone through Lower Manhattan one afternoon like a laundry list. I had walked outdoors and indoors, through parks and squares, museums and libraries, and had gone on both land and water, underground and 70 floors above ground, turning New York upside down and inside out in my head.

The day I arrived, my cousin met me at a Port Authority coffee shop; we just dumped my stuff at his place in Queens, and promptly headed to what is now the must-see stop for first time tourists: Ground Zero. Strange to visit a place, not to feel a presence, but an absence. I remembered witnessing aghast the fall of the twin towers on live news back home, but was finding it hard, there and then, to sense its absence, despite the huge cavity in the ground that took its place. Perhaps, because I have not seen the two towers myself, it made it difficult to grasp how something of its scope and size used to stand there in such a narrow space. In Berlin, you could still see sections of the Wall (Die Mauer) in some parts of the city, and even buy a piece of it at Check Point Charlie as Cold War memento. Here, the obliteration is total, the rubble swept away with thoroughness; there is an eagerness to build anew.

The following morning I took Subway Line 6 to the Upper East Side and walked down Park, Madison, and 5th Avenues, to the Guggenheim and Central Park. You know you’re on the posh side of town when you’re sipping coffee beside a socialite and her publicist. Unfortunately, the Guggenheim was under major renovation and was, moreover, closed that day; the façade was stripped down to its concrete and padded with rickety scaffoldings. “You should say ‘ahem!’ when you’re sneaking like that at somebody who is painting,” the man warned under a sly smile. His stiff frame stooped at the corner, almost hidden, between a white van and a signpost. “It’s a pity I could not see its Frank Lloyd Wright architecture,” I said, with a little bit of conceit. “It’s a pity for you, but it’s great for me!,” and he proceeded to color sunlight into a section of scaffold on his canvas.

There was no place to sit at the concourse of the Grand Central Station. I vaguely recalled there being pew-like benches there in the Harrison Ford movie Witness, and was half expecting to finally be able stop and rest, but got kept on the treadmill by the current of people, through mazes of tunnels, up and down wide staircases and amber-lit mezzanines. I then found, to my delight, an indoor market where I was able to buy myself a bowl of fruits. I thought of Barcelona, and of finding the marketplace among the bustle of La Rambla, of picking up bread and cheeses, strawberries half the size of my fist, and a good bottle of Rioja. I gave up looking for a place to sit, and simply flopped on the floor and ensconced myself in a corner to enjoy this much humbler lunch, and, like the Amish boy in the film, watched with equal alarm and relief the dizzying torrent of New Yorkers passing by.