Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Sisters Kalamazoo Take On New York, Part II

by Zinta Aistars

Continued from Part I

Sitting on our Brooklyn stoop

My sister Daina and I were on a trip to New York City -- my business trip for a work assignment, with my sister tagging along for good company and to occasionally take over as photographer, freeing my hands to take notes for the articles I would be writing.

On this first morning in Brooklyn, however, we were tourists. One of my assignments would begin in the evening, but for much of the day, we were free to explore New York City. While I had been to NYC too many times to count, my sister hadn't been since she was a child ... so off we went to see what we could see.

Our rental car parked directly in front of the Brooklyn brownstone where we were staying, we set off on foot. Roman, our landlord for the week, kindly pointed us in the direction of the nearest subway entrance that would take us into Manhattan. One thing I can say for big cities: they use public transportation. A lot. Obviously, more could use public transportation, because the streets are packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, but for those who are wiser, subways, buses, trains are easily available. Whenever I have visited NYC, I have used public transportation or simply set off on foot.

The day was cool, a tad too cool, but bright with sunshine as we took off for Nostrand Avenue and then to Fulton to catch the A line to Manhattan. Only my sister was lagging behind. I strode ahead, realized she was a step or two behind me, slowed, then strode ahead, forgetting. Her back was still hurting her.

Daina in red, waiting for our subway
We joked about our middle-aging bodies. "Nav joks palikt vecam," we teased each other, repeating our mother's frequent saying in Latvian ... it's no joke getting old. Perhaps not, but no use crying over it. It is a privilege to age. It means we are in the process of enjoying a long life, and I'm thoroughly enjoying mine.

We found the stairs down into the underbelly of the city easily. I bought our Metro tickets with enough funds on them that we could get on and off the subway several times throughout the day. A moment to orient ourselves, and the subway quickly arrived, on, off, and we emerged downtown Manhattan.

Here, we saw, would be our point of destination later in the afternoon, when we had reserved tickets to visit the 9/11 Memorial of the World Trade Center. Tracking our time, we headed up and into the Island, towards Times Square and Central Park. Daina's hope had been to see some of the main points of the city, and we had in mind some of my favorite restaurants, delis, Empire State Building, so that she could get an overview of the great city.

Not to happen. A few city blocks in, we both realized that my sister's back was quickly getting worse for the wear. What could be wrong? Muscle spasms? Something twisted or wrenched? We hoped nothing more serious than time could heal, but walking was obviously aggravating her back ache, not alleviating it.

Rather than continuing our walk, we dipped down into another subway entrance underground, emerged again at Times Square. This was no doubt one of the better known parts of New York City, a cacophony of displays, electronic and print, neon signs and boards, soaring skyscrapers, and a constant bustle below of humanity. Even Batman was here, spreading his black bat wings. And Spiderman slipped around him.
Times Square

The well-known Naked Cowboy, a dude in briefs and boots and cowboy hat and nothing else but a guitar, that I had seen here many times before, had gotten wise. He'd been replaced by a nearly Naked Cowgirl, clad only in red, white and blue bikini and a tan under her cowboy hat. Some stopped to have their photo taken beside her. Others rolled their eyes. My sister and I puzzled over her ability to endure the very real chill in the air and passed on.

Daina and Z eating deli food at Times Square
What better for lunch than one of New York's well-known delis? We chose one on Times Square, following in long lines of hungry New Yorkers and circling long tables of delicious foods. Name it, there it was. Salads, meats, vegetables, desserts, all for the piling. We piled it on, checked out at the register, and headed upstairs above the deli for seating and ATE.

Nourished and refueled, we headed to Central Park, the green jewel of the city, its heart and center. Limited by time and my sister's mobility, we could only walk one corner of the southern section, but if the deli food had refueled my body, the sight of green grass and trees refueled my spirit.

Central Park

I was missing home in the country ... Z Acres. Truth be told, I'd been reluctant to leave in the first place. Much as I enjoyed spending time with my sister, much as I looked forward to our annual sister trips, cities drew me in less and less. The more I enjoyed living out in nature under the wide open sky, the less I could understand living on cement, surrounded by others at brush-up-close vicinity. The sounds, the smells, the tiny squares of sky overhead, the tiny squares, if any, that passed as backyards ... I sighed. Perhaps I'd been to New York City enough times by now. Maybe, I thought, maybe this was to be my last visit.

If I'd seen much of the city in previous trips, one thing I had not seen. At the designated time on our tickets, we flagged down a taxi to take us to the 9/11 Memorial. We found long and winding lines, but they moved quickly. We were guided through security, not once but several times as we neared the memorial. The closer we got, the more hushed the crowd became.

One of the new towers under construction
The memorial was still unfinished. That didn't matter. People wanted to gather, to see, to witness, to contemplate. We entered an open area dotted by trees, and we  later learned the story of one of those trees. A pear tree had survived the terrorist blasts on that fateful day, a small part of it still showing green and sending up shoots. People noticed, and the tree was dug up, transplanted to more fertile ground to give it a chance to fully recuperate and thrive, then transplanted once again to the World Trade Center, a full grown and healthy tree once again.

My sister and I were moved by the story of the tree. Somehow, neither one of us had heard this story before. It is a story of hope and renewal.

We moved around the two footprints of the two, now missing, towers. It was an effective memorial, the two immense squares, water flowing into them, symbolizing a void left by the destruction of buildings and thousands of lives. Along the edges, names of the victims were carved into stone, and my sister and I walked slowly along the edges, fingers tracing names. There were more than a few names followed by "with unborn child," and these stung especially.

A policeman gathered a crowd around him at one side of the memorial, telling his story of that day when the two planes hit the towers and brought them down. He was a first responder. We stood for a while, listening. The world was filled with such stories, and not just here. Had we learned anything?

My sister purchased molded leaves in the nearby gift shop, imprinted on the leaves of the survivor tree. Our day of being tourists, yet feeling our belonging in this place, as we all belonged to one human race, one shared loss, one shared destiny, was over.

The clock ticked, and we stepped inside a hotel restroom to change our shoes, tussle up our hair a bit, freshen up accessories for an evening at Zio's Ristorante on West 19th Street. My first work assignment was about to begin.

To be continued ...

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