Our last day in New York today and my (Malkie/husband) first time as a guest blogger…here goes.
I like having a book to read on holiday, I find it much easier to absorb myself in a good story when I have the time to read large sections at once. It’s also a much better option than checking Facebook et al on the regular 30 min subway rides. This holiday the choice was easy and inspired by a certain Tim Higgins who let his Instagram followers know he’d been reading Open, by Andre Agassi. He quoted form the first page of the book “I play tennis for a living, even though I hate it, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have”. I was hooked – and as soon as the opportunity arose popped into the nearest Barnes and Noble to buy it.
The opening chapter is set in New York on 31st August 2006 when Agassi played an epic 5 set match at the Arthur Ashe stadium, Flushing Meadows against Marcos Baghdatis in the US Open – his last tournament. And there we wear, exactly 9 years later; 31st August 2015 watching Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal at the Arthur Ashe stadium (preceded by Josh Groban and Vanessa Williams no less). Serena went through extremely comfortably but Nadal had a fight on his hands losing a set to an 18 year old Borna Coric; a Grand Slam champion of the future – you heard it here first. So in terms of reading something which related to the holiday, this was as close as it gets. I finished the book yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. A fascinating insight into the world of tennis and the uncompromising childhoods almost all tennis champions seem to have had. It also brought back fond memories of watching Wimbledon as a teenager during the 90’s. Sampras, Courier, Becker, Edberg, Agassi et al. Thanks Tim.
It’s the morning of the last day of our holiday. Tonight we’ll be on a plane back to the UK. Right now we’re making the most of a 12 noon check out time from our hotel. I’m thinking back over some of the things we’ve done this week, some of the things which Lucy hasn’t mentioned in the blog so far. On Monday we paid a visit to the Natural HIstory Museum. I remember as a child when we went on holiday (mostly in the south of Ireland) we’d always visit museums, or castles, or other places of historical interest. I must admit I was often bored and usually amused myself by messing around and climbing on things (the history just didn’t sink in). Now here I am in my mid thirties and on holiday I love going to museums, reading and learning. Natural history is of particular interest.
When Lucy and I were in New Zealand in 2009 we found this terrific museum in Wellington (Te Papa Tongewera). We ended up visiting it twice, once on our way from North Island to South Island and once on our way back. It was visually stunning. The natural history of New Zealand is fascinating. For example, there was no human presence on New Zealand until the 13th century (when Maori’s arrived from other south sea islands) – the last country to be populated by humans. There were no predators on the island until they were introduced by man allowing diverse and unusually species to evolve many of which are now sadly extinct. Enough of New Zealand, back to New York.
Lucy and I agreed that the Natural HIstory Museum in New York wasn’t quite as visually appealing or engaging as Te Papa Tongewera. It felt a little bit dated but what it did have going for it (apart from Liam Neeson doing the voice over for the history of the universe show) was the incredible collection of original artefacts. We saw the first T-rex skull ever discovered, the largest meteorite in the world (the size of a small car but weighing 34 tonnes) and Lucy. Lucy is the oldest fossil record of a hominin, the grandparents (in evolutionary terms) of homo sapiens. She is estimated to be 3 million years old. There were also all kinds of dinosaur fossils and beautiful displays particularly of African and North American mammals. What captured my imagination was learning about the human migration from Africa. The first humans to cross the Bering Straight 15,000 years ago and discover North and South America. And most remarkably of all the Aborigines who crossed at least 90km of ocean to reach Australia 60,000 years ago. Incredible.
Equally full of stunning originals was the Metropolitan Museum of Art situated on the other side of Central Park. Simply the quantity of pieces was breathtaking, from ancient Egyptian tombs, to elegant French armour, to stunning Roman sculpture. We wandered through halls and rooms and corridors stacked full. But most impressive was the 19th and 20th century art. We feasted our eyes on original works by Picasso, Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh and they just kept coming, hundreds and hundreds. It was too much to take in at once. Like any feast no matter how good the food is it’s only a matter of time before you’re full.
It was strange to see people brush past these works of art, or just move from one to the next taking a photo without really looking at it. By my 20th Picasso I found myself moving on swiftly as well with a greater desire to sit down in an air conditioned room with a glass of water than to be present to the stunning art around me. Which I guess is similar to my experience of New York as a whole. There is so much to see, to absorb and take in but everyone is on the move, on their smartphones, distracted. I realise I’m on holiday and lots of people around me aren’t but it’s striking none the less. To be in a place where we can stand face to face with the oldest human fossil, eyeball every contour of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, watch the best Female tennis player ever to play the game but are more interested in how my people liked our latest Instagram photo.
The south-west corner of central park, where we sat and ate dinner last night out of cardboard boxes from the Wholefood Hot Food stand, reminds me how strange this place is . It’s known as the Columbus Circle, an array of fountains surrounding a statue of the man who discovered America. And beside it Trump Towers, part of the empire of a man who has built a fortune in this country and it now running for president. It’s a strange topping and tailing of the history of America in 2015 in one place.
I’m struck by the disparity between rich and poor, by how wealth is idolised, by how we seem to have lost touch with human values and the ability to be present to our experiences and one another. I think about what a strange country America is with it’s contradictions and then I realise that the UK is no different. Perhaps in visiting a less familiar place we’re able to see more clearly how things are in our own land.
It’s been a good week. A celebration of 10 years with a wonderful woman, a series of privileged experiences, an absorbing story and a reminder of some of the things which are important in life and many more which aren’t.