The Island with a Past

Map via

Map via

“Did you get away during the Summer?”

“We did actually. We managed four days in New York.”

And then you watch the reverberation in the face of your listener. Layers and layers of expression. Reflection of respect for the vast distance; the superlative shopping experience; the spectacle, the sights.

But it was none of that, I struggle to explain. That’s not why I went back.

I went back because of the pictures of New Amsterdam.

They are what held me, and continue to hold me, in sway. The knowledge of the little walled settlement with Krijn Frederijcke’s  defensive fort; of the ordered streets of houses, each with a long garden; the streets askew, refusing to be ordered into a grid. That stone thatched headquarters, counting house of the Dutch West Indies Company. All those wooden dwellings.

It is what New York came from, and how it has become what it has become, which fascinates me.

And as you walk along on the ground the old places are only just discernible, in the street patterns. You can visit the sites where things were, but you can’t see how it was.

But when you rise high above it the layers of history unfold, because the grand scale reveals time’s passing once again: the island, with its two rivers; Broadway’s individuality; the sundry levels, with the smallest buildings often the oldest. All that farmland, all those neat little gardens and clapboard houses gone, to be replaced with a great, audacious park in the middle of the island.

I spent half an hour at the top of the Empire State Building.  But had I had the choice, I would have taken a packed lunch and been up there all day.

For it is only up there, in the rarefied heights, that New York shows its wrinkles.


24 thoughts on “The Island with a Past

  1. Did you see the statue of the Charging Bull in Bowling Green Park by Wall Street? If it was there when my ancestors lived in New Amsterdam, they would have seen it right outside their front window 🙂

  2. I share that love of history with you. And you struck a special chord in me with the ‘street patterns’. I observe that, too! I love looking back and seeing in my mind’s eye the way it “was”.

  3. I love lower Manhattan for just that reason. It shows it’s wrinkles! I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes! You can find small clues in unexpected places. I suppose that’s why I love Boston so much. It wears its history on its sleeve, even where it doesn’t mean to.

    And I’m sure you’ve seen this, but I had to share in case you hadn’t:

  4. As a youngster in elementary school, I loved learning about New Amesterdam, even selecting it for a class project. To see your bird’s eye view is exciting, Kate, city wrinkles and all. From your home island to this younger one – quite a trip.

  5. The Empire State Building was a favorite haunt of my youth . . . as was Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry and Lady Liberty.

    Glad you are still enjoying the vestiges of your visit.

  6. New York City offers so much. Your interest in the Big Apple is just how I feel about Las Vegas, Kate. Others go to Sin City for the glitz, the glamour, the entertainment, and the casinos along The Strip. We go to see my brother and to experience sights that are off The Strip that are even more fascinating.

    I’m glad you had a great time.

  7. Such a fantastic observation, Kate. I do understand the seeing behind what’s featured on the tourist bureau’s advertisement. The commercial offering isn’t typically what interests me, but I can get quite caught up in imagining a different time and place. You’ll have to come back and spend more time at the top of NYC!

  8. Although I’ve lived in Manhattan for 31 years, Kate, I have only only glimpsed views from the classic observation decks including the Empire State Building about a half dozen times. Where I think you can really eyeball this Metropolis’s wrinkles, or at least its quirks, is from apartment balconies that tower over neighborhood streets and brownstones. The view looking down when you’re about sixteen floors up, is almost intimate and definitely, voyeuristic. I’m glad you so enjoyed your visit! Last night I dined in the outdoor garden at Bello Giardino. Your table was empty.

  9. Until fairly recently, I was not very interested in the history, Kate. I put it down to the dreadfully dry South African history we were forced to learn ad nauseam during the Apartheid years. But, as late in life as it is, I have begun to really appreciate how wonderful it is to learn the history that underlies everything. Layer upon layer.

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