The Big Apple
New York City
The largest city in the United States, which some even affectionately call the Capital of the World, is a metropolis that absorbs its visitors. Anyone who takes a step in The Big Apple feels like a New Yorker and instantly becomes one. An ode to the Great Melting Pot.
The kosher bread on the shelves of the Jewish baker in South-Williamsburg is still warm. Hasidic Jews with their characteristic curls along the temples, top hats and yarmulkes, the ladies with wigs and modest dresses, walk by. Tomorrow is Shabbat. Then the melacha applies under the halacha. In other words, according to the Jewish law no work may be performed. All purchases must be made today. The baker is doing well. The challes fly, still hot, over the counter.
A few subway stops further in Chinatown, I walk past containers full of living, crawling crabs. The smell of dried stockfish fills the air, and the noses, with their fragrant stench. Fish stalls, with dizzying amounts of sea gold. Fruit stalls with colourful fruity specimen whose existence was unknown to me. See the palaces of commerce full of frills and trinkets and streets full of hot pot and dim sum restaurants as far as the stomach stretches.
In Little Italy, every pizzeria shows off the mobsters that once ate a pastrami sandwich here. Black-and-white photos of Mafiosi and film stars who owe their fame to the fact that they look like Mafia bosses. Kiss me, I’m Italian. We are under the watchful eye of the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan and the Financial District. Origin is never far away in the City Which Never Sleeps. But one’s origin is also non-existent. Step into New York, and you’re a New Yorker. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you. New York, New York.”
In Little Italy, every pizzeria shows off the mobsters that once ate a pastrami sandwich there
If you want to feel New York, you have to move with the subway and hop off at every station. Each stop seems like a journey to another universe. The five boroughs, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Manhattan. They all have their atmosphere and culture. And those boroughs all have suburbs with their unique sauce, and each district has another block or another avenue… New York is the Great Feast of Discoveries..
That subway is a universe in itself. With its three hundred sixty-eight kilometres (368!) It is one of the largest underground rail systems in the world. The first metro line, of this remarkably easy-to-understand network, already opened in 1904.
The underground tunnels embrace the heat and hold it. Fortunately, all cars have air conditioning. Travelling by subway is the fastest way to move forward in one of the largest urban areas known to our planet. Forget the car. Traffic is hell on steroids.
If you buy a ticket with your Mastercard in one of the vending machines, the device asks for your ZIP code
A Metropas, valid for a week, costs only $ 32, – and offers access to all corners of the Big Apple. Smart fact. If you buy a ticket with your Mastercard in one of the vending machines, the device asks for your ZIP code. The computer only recognises US ZIP codes. Without it you can not pay with your Mastercard. The solution is simple. Enter a nine or a zero five times as your ZIP code. The device will know that you are from abroad and accepts the payment. Easy peasy.
When you drive north for forty minutes and leave the traffic jungle of the city behind, you find yourself in another world. Via The Bronx, you drive to Yonkers after that nature starts. The Dutch influences in New York, the former New Amsterdam, are tangible everywhere for those who pay a little attention. Harlem, Haarlem. Wallstreet, Waalstraat. Coney Island, Konijneneiland, Brooklyn, Breukelen. And so on. Here, a bit above Yonkers, you’ll find Tarrytown. In Dutch Tarwestad. It was founded by the Dutch who tried their luck in Nieuw Nederland. Today it is a rustic, sleepy green town. It is almost bizarre you can find this so close to the metropolis.
Next to Tarrytown you’ll find Sleepy Hollow, which is known for the legend of the Headless Horseman. The Horseman is buried in the cemetery of The Old Dutch Church according to that same legend. Every Halloween he gets up from his grave to find his head. On the old weathered graves, I see a lot of Ackermans, Brouwers, Van de Rondes and Van Tessels who are enjoying their eternal peace.
In the cemetery of The Old Dutch Church I see an extraordinary number of Ackermans, Brouwers and Van Tessels lying in eternal rest
Before remarkably many of the male tombs with Dutch names, you see star-spangled banners: a tribute to those who fought in the American Revolutionary War and the many wars that followed. A wall of one of the outbuildings of the church is adorned with clogs in all colours and sizes.
But of course it was not only the Dutch. Because no matter how difficult people are being now about immigrants in the US of A, the fact remains that this country consists purely of immigrants. Not counting the handful of Indians.
In the days Walt Whitman was alive, one of the best American poets ever, the United States was the site of one of the most significant migration streams ever. Between 1820 and 1880 the gates to the country stood wide open. Three million Germans, three million Irish, one million British, seven hundred and fifty thousand Austrians, seven hundred and fifty thousand Canadians, a quarter of a million Chinese and about one million from the rest of the world entered the US in those sixty years. That is about 445 per day for 60 years. Day in day out. Everyone had their reasons.
America needed everyone to grow and colonise the land entirely
The Germans sought freedom and agricultural land. The Irish sought, besides their luck, a way out of the hell that Ireland had become after a failed potato harvest, which brought famine and destruction. America needed everyone to grow and colonise the land entirely.
Most came in via Ellis Island, an island off the coast of New York, next to the island where the Statue of Liberty adorns. Here they were inspected, tested and weighed. 98% were allowed to go through, 2% were too crazy or found to be too ill and had to leave the land of opportunity straight away.
It must have been a unique time when Whitman wrote his masterpiece Keep your Splendid Silent Sun. A city full of people fresh from the boat, finding their way in that foreign country. Often completely alone. Raw and hard full it must have been the world that Walt Whitman lyrically described in his epic ode to the city in 1865. He was nevertheless as in love with it as we are now.
Raw and hard full it must have been the world that Walt Whitman lyrically described in his epic ode
The current New York is not so hard and raw anymore. Crime has been falling in a row for twenty-eight years. In the seventies and eighties, Harlem after 110th Street was a hell or tester, as Bobby Womack sang. Now everything feels calm and safe. And the rudeness for which New Yorkers are famous? When you come from the Netherlands, the bluntest country in the world, New Yorkers seem rather polite.
Today the city consists of hard-working people, having a vacation just one week per year is considered entirely normal. New York absorbs you. Take you as you are. The city is a living organism. The sparkling evidence that a multicultural society works. Do you want to go into town in your bathrobe? No one will notice. Why would any New Yorker worry about something silly like that? They have places to go and people to meet. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you. New York, New York.”