Saturday, July 3, 2010

New York Dream travel

Budding trees amidst the skyscrapers, cherry trees blossoming in the side streets and New York changing skin… With new ideas and back streets just waiting to be explored, the capital city of the American Dream is getting ready for Turkish Day, to be held on May 23rd.

It was a long time ago. One day the American Dream seduced me. I went around singing freedom songs in a heightened state of mind like that of the first Europeans who set foot in the New World. Wherever and whenever you grow up, the magic words of adolescence are encoded in this city’s DNA: freedom and endless opportunity. I was hoping to find them in just one city, New York. But then I got interested in American literature and questions started to rise in my mind. The character of social outcast Jerry in playwright Edward Albee’s ‘The Zoo’, set in Central Park and a prime example of the theater of the absurd, the profound desperation portrayed in Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’, and the locked rooms of Paul Auster’s late eighties ‘New York Trilogy’ all marred my pleasure. So, captivated by the familiar comfort of other, more nearby cities, I decided to leave America for another spring.


It was a winter day around the turn of the millennium when I first set foot in New York as a tourist. My sole purpose was to discover what I’d perhaps been missing. When I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and entered Manhattan, all the streets and avenues were familiar to me. Like every tourist arriving in the city, my first job was to go to the top of the Empire State Building. After waiting hours in line, I was whisked to the 102nd floor by elevator in a few seconds. Here for the first time I made the acquaintance of the New York microcosm, where 170 different languages are spoken and every third person is a foreigner. What I saw was neither beautiful nor ugly but simply astonishing: The rooms in the skyscrapers and the people in those rooms looked to me like ants in boxes. Falling under the spell of a city like a ship, through which I glided under night-blue lights, I found the Statue of Liberty smaller than I expected. Never putting my camera down for a minute, I watched with amazement as tourists from the Far East snapped shots of Rockefeller Center and the Trump Towers, even of New Yorkers on their way to work. When I looked in the shop windows on Fifth Avenue and saw the elegant jewelry along 57th Street, I remembered Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and I started humming ‘Blue River, wider than a mile...’ that I had loved so much from the movie. Wondering to myself if there was a single paving stone in all of New York that had not been filmed at one time or another, I thought a man who passed me looked incredibly like Woody Allen, and, imagining that perhaps I might be being filmed at that very moment, I told myself that in New York, anything is possible. I went to Broadway musicals, and when I came to Times Square I felt I was ‘at the center of the world’. I didn’t realize it but the city had literally gone to my head. All I knew on my return was that I wanted to get back as soon as possible.

And that is indeed what happened. I am determined to tour to my heart’s content the city I’ve breezed in and out of over the years. When I call up my New York friend from my Manhattan hotel room, she chides me a little for having waited so long between visits. I tell her I wonder what I’ve missed and ask her to show me New York’s hidden corners. Unable to wait any longer, I hit the streets. There’s that New York spell again! What’s more, it’s springtime. There is nothing like the judas trees that bloom on the Bosphorus in spring, but the blossoming mimosas and cherry trees I see as I stroll along the Upper West Side are also unforgettably beautiful. With the dust of Istanbul still on my shoes, I head straight for Central Park. As I pass by the monument erected in memory of Beatle John Lennon with ‘Imagine’ set in mosaics at the center, I notice a homeless Lennon fan leaving fresh flowers. The name ‘Strawberry Fields’ has stuck in this part of the park, in memory of Lennon, who lived in the Dakota Apartments on the corner where he was also shot. There are many things to see in the park and its environs: the Zoo, the architecturally remarkable Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the many galleries large and small.

Now begins my marathon to the island’s west side. My goal is to explore the quarter of West Chelsea, the city’s shining star of late and new address for art galleries. Some 350 galleries await me in the Art Gallery District between 20th and 23rd streets. I can enter only a few since most don’t open till afternoon. Passing architect Frank Gehry’s signature ultra-modern nine-story glass building, now a Chelsea icon, I come to Chelsea Market, a virtual neighborhood bazaar as the name indicates. Opposite me stands a giant of a building dating to 1890. Long one of the world’s largest cracker factories, it has been reclaimed now in the city’s post-industrial transformation. Fashionable shops, cafes and snack bars crowd the entrance of the building, which exhibits the culture of an earlier era. Preserved as a factory floor, its now unused pipes serve as decor, while the lighting gives the impression of a night club. When I look around, I realize that I’m standing next to a shop selling colorfully decorated cupcakes. The former cracker storage areas on the building’s upper floors have been converted into million-dollar one-room lofts district of colorful nightlife during the daytime, you might encounter a fashion shoot at any moment.

Leaving the butchers, I head down Greenwich Avenue where petals fly like confetti in the spring air. All of Manhattan’s greenest streets seem to be concentrated here, where flowerpots grace the wrought iron fire escapes of most of the historic houses. Rather quiet and peaceful, this part of the city boasts among its residents Dustin Hoffman and many other film artists of whom I am as yet unaware. New Yorkers call it simply ‘The Village’. Why? Refugees fleeing the yellow fever epidemic that threatened the entire city in 1822 founded a village here. Departing from Manhattan’s ruler-drawn city plan, its mix of random and perpendicular streets is reminiscent of the old continent.
My ears perk up when I hear Turkish being spoken as I pass a park. The Turks are excited about the 29th ‘Turkish Day Walk’, in which Turkey’s National Soccer Team is also taking part, to be celebrated on Madison Avenue, May 23rd. Photographic artist Metin Öner, who has lived in the Village for 30 years, explains: “I often hear Turkish being spoken in New York. People still come here in pursuit of their dreams. I don’t know if the number of Turks in New York has increased in recent years or not, but our presence has definitely become more noticeable.” We stroll through the district. Long the province of the Village artists, its profile has changed somewhat in recent years due to rising real estate prices. New York University now owns almost half the Village, and you will encounter students and academics in Washington Square Park especially. Finally I am getting to know yet another face of New York. This city is a haven for photography buffs. There are ongoing exhibitions in the many museums and art galleries of this city, which literally cries out to be photographed.

I turn now to Soho, where original Hollywood filmscripts are sold at street stalls. Known as the Cast Iron Historic District for its historic buildings made of cast iron, Soho’s Wooster, Greene and Mercer streets are very lively. A chic stationery shop catches my eye among the restaurants that line Prince Avenue. Everything here is made of paper, including chandeliers, tables and gift items of every kind imaginable. But I’m tired and it’s time for a ‘pick-me-up’ coffee. I pick up a book titled ‘My First New York’ compiled by the editors of New York magazine and read about Liza Minnelli’s New York: “Everybody here is enthusiastic, in a hurry and always wanting more,” she says. “We’re all still like adolescents.” I’m thinking the American writers I read so many years ago got it badly wrong. The New York dream is not dead. Quite the contrary it has become palpable reality.

İlhan Erşahin (Musician)
I moved to New York in 1990. I watched the film ‘Warriors’ and was influenced by Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’. I started daydreaming about New York when I listened to Peter Tosh and to Sonny Rollins’ saxophone solo on the Rolling Stones album. New York has always been the source of music. I knew I was going to live here one day. This city gives me freedom in the true sense of the word, at least in the East Village where I live. It’s as if you live on your own island here. Paris, for example, is very beautiful, but you have to follow the rules of the French. NYC is completely different. Here you’re your own boss. It’s a little like the Wild West. I’m like in a small town here. I buy fresh fish and vegetables from the neighborhood market. I don’t go outside my neighborhood much unless I’m invited to a party or a concert. I get around by bicycle. There is a big chance to get healthy and organic products here immediately.  You won’t find standard produce of this quality anywhere else in the world.

Melis Alphan (Journalist, fashion expertı)
A person walks more in New York than in any other city. High heels or uncomfortable shoes can turn a New York visit into torture. At the same time, a person doesn’t need anything other than jeans and a T-shirt in my opinion. But those who are thinking of going to fancy restaurants in the evening shouldn’t neglect to bring appropriate clothes because you can’t wear jeans to some restaurants. For me New York is a ‘therapeutic’ city. It is the most cosmopolitan city in the world, and therefore a person never feels like a stranger or an outsider here. New York is the only city in the world where I would live outside Istanbul. Every time I go there I see a ton of innovations in every area. Those in search of unusual outfits can look in the boutiques in Soho or Brooklyn. A person wants to buy everything she sees there.

Turkish Airlines flies to New York and back every day of the week. Departures from Istanbul are at 11:00 a.m., returns at 4:45 p.m

Luxury is at its zenith on Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. Those seeking design and creativity should not be surprised by the boutiques in Soho. And just an hour from New York there are outlets selling all the name brands.

The new bohemian-style cafes and restaurants are in Williamsburg and on Prince Street in Tribeca. It’s also worth trying Chinatown, Little Italy and the French-Vietnamese-Far Eastern cuisines on Fifth Avenue near 57th Street.
Write: Serra Güray - Photo: Mehmet Demirci

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