Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Summer in the City

“Hot town summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city…”

C’mon, Lovin’ Spoonful, what’s a little sweat between friends? Didn’t you know that when the fabulous leave for the traffic-jammed Hamptons New York becomes a playground for the rest of us?

You don’t need deep pockets either. The subway is safe and efficient – well, compared to other eras. It runs 24/7 and is a veritable living theatre chockfull of character actors who would put Jack Nicholson to shame.

The same goes for walking. And there’s so much to see. A smorgasbord of buildings erected over the last four centuries preen and lean against each other without even a nod to conformity.

On a good day even Mr. Trump’s monstrosities have a certain buffoonish charm. You’d have to wonder, though, if The Donald has ever even noticed the Chrysler or Woolworth in their stately elegance?

After scores of visits to the Metropolitan Museum I still marvel that I’m allowed stand within sniffing distance of Van Gogh’s Starry Night; however, if the sheer profusion of masterpieces becomes too much for you, then surrender yourself to the moody serenity of a Vermeer at the more negotiable Frick Museum.

Want to wear the kids out and still feel good when you hit the saloons unencumbered later? The Museum of Natural History is your man. Go early and saturate them with dinosaurs, pharaohs, whales and fossils, they’ll be crying out for a long peaceful evening of Facebook and video games back at the hotel.

But New York is so much more than Manhattan. Take a walk down the West Side to Battery Park and hop aboard the Staten Island Ferry, doesn’t cost a dime.

Even on the most blistering of days it’s cool out in the harbor where you can still sense what it must have been like to arrive on an emigrant ship. You’ll see the skyline and bridges from a whole different angle while the Statue of Liberty will only gain in the grandeur of its scale and message.

When you land at St. George board the train to Tottenville but get off at a couple of the leafy small towns. After an hour or two of a ramble you’ll understand why so many people from Aaron Burr to Keith Richard made their home in this least lauded of boroughs.

Are beaches your thing? Then like Duke Ellington take the A train to the Republic of Rockaway. They do things their own way out on this wave pounded peninsula and my one fear is that someday they’ll pack up their splendor and secede from the city. Cadge an invitation to Breezy Point, the gated Irish Riviera at the west end. Ask for my brother, chances are you’ll find him holding court at the Blarney Castle.

You want music? The axis has shifted from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Try the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg – this unique club prides itself on showcasing musicians from all continents.

And for an authentic Irish-American saloon, where Jimmy Cagney trumps Colin Farrell and Notre Dame football is preferred to its Kerry equivalent, seek out Rocky Sullivan’s in Red Hook. Seanchai and The Unity Squad pump their fists for culture in the back room every Saturday night.

Do you have a yen for flowers, exotic and otherwise? Then get thee to the only borough on the mainland, The Bronx! The Botanical Gardens are a thing of rare beauty and if you want to go nose to nose with a gorilla the magnificent zoo is close by.
You don’t have tickets for the Yankees game? Go on up anyway and ask if they’ve got any last minute deals. Chances are you’ll get great seats and at a discount too.

Don’t forget Upper Manhattan – it’s a different country. Stroll through the wildness of Inwood Hill Park before hoofing it down to The Cloisters. You’ll fancy you’ve stepped right back into medieval Europe.

That’s New York City - all you need is a subway card, a sense of adventure and a sensible pair of shoes. See you on the town.

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